This article is a how-to guide to help you design and build your End-of-Life Binder. This binder will help your loved ones follow your last wishes, know where your assets and liabilities are, and what to do about them.
Did you miss part one of The Death Preparedness series? You Have Six Months To Live. How To Survive That.
Index / Table Of Contents For The Complete Guide To Building An End-of-Life Binder
- Index / Table Of Contents For The Complete Guide To Building An End-of-Life Binder
- A Little Intro
- I Don’t Have Printable Forms YET, But…
- What Is A End-of-Life Binder, And Why Do We Need One
- You Don’t Have To Be Dead All The Time
- Who’s Your End-of-Life Binder For
- What’s With The Name? Why Not The ❝In Case I Die❞ Folder?
- Security Concerns – Where To Keep Your Binder
- Physical Binder vs. Digital Documents
- Professionally Prepared Legal Papers
- What Goes In Your End Of Life Binder?
- Index Page
- In Case Of an Emergency
- Last Will And Testament And/Or Living Will
- Power Of Attorney
- Basic Personal Information
- Copies of Important Documents
- Financial Information
- Physical Assets – Cars, RVs, Boats, Other Valuables, Etc
- Equipment & Devices
- Website & Online Login Information
- Pets Are People Too
- Don’t Forget Your Business
- Final Words & Wishes
- Conclusion And My Personal Note
- Call To Action / Next Step
A Little Intro
Here’s how I pictured this article before I started writing it. I’d touch up my own End-of-Life Binder and set up a camera to look down on my desk. Then I would cover the private information and walk you through the binder on video.
Nope. First, almost every page must be covered to keep my private information private. Second, there wasn’t going to be touching up anything. I’ve made a weeks-long project re-doing the entire binder. And that doesn’t even count, replacing all my passwords, and changing the system I use for online accounts.
Sometimes an article turns my life upside down for a while, hopefully for the better.
I Don’t Have Printable Forms YET, But…
I’m working on a printable and blank version of my End-of-Life Binder, but it will take a while. Hopefully, I will have downloadable binder templates you can edit and print at a very affordable price.
Please don’t wait on me. Get started on your binder as soon as you can. If you believe you’ll be interested in the downloadable binder templates I’m making, join my email list. That’s the best method of announcing that they are ready.
What Is A End-of-Life Binder, And Why Do We Need One
An End-of-Life Binder is a packet, bundle, stack, or pile of papers that you have created, collected, and organized into something a little easier to work with than a pile of documents someone has to figure out after you die or get so sick you can no longer take care of your situation. I keep mine in a binder out of convenience. Some people prefer a folder. Doesn’t matter.
It would help if you worked on death preparedness, such as building an End-of-Life binder so those you’ve left behind, those responsible for funeral arrangments, paying off bills, selling or giving away assets, accessing your investments and bank accounts, etc., and following your after-death wishes knows exactly what those wishes are.
You Don’t Have To Be Dead All The Time
Sometimes you need help, even when you’re still breathing. Who feeds your pets if you’re in a comma for six months? Will you lose your home even though you have the funds to continue the payments and taxes? Your car? All those debts you have set up on your bank’s bill pay. Are those going to overdraw your account because the income or payroll stopped? Is money getting eaten up by monthly debits that aren’t necessary?
No, you don’t have to be dead before your Death Preparedness comes into play. Your End-of-Life Binder can assist those with your care if you cannot think, speak, or do. There are several conditions I can think of right off the top of my head, but there’s little point. You’re already thinking of them as well.
Who’s Your End-of-Life Binder For
The person or people you’re doing this for, building this binder for, might be your spouse, kids, executor, or someone else you designate.
This seems like the perfect spot for my disclaimer.
Disclaimer – I Ain’t No Expert
As always, my lack of knowledge disclaimer: I am, now and always, an expert at only being myself and nothing more. I’m not a legal, health, political, or expert at anything I opinionate about on this blog.
What’s With The Name? Why Not The ❝In Case I Die❞ Folder?
Alright, to keep this from getting confusing, I have a large binder/notebook I call my “Oh Snap, I Died” binder because, like Glenn Beck likes to call me, I might be a sick, twisted freak.
My “Oh Snap, I Died” binder is an End-of-Life Binder, and that’s what I’m calling it for this article. I want people to find this article, and no one will search for oh snap, I died. Google needs something a little more descriptive than that.
When it seems I’m using that phrase too much, I might switch it up and call it the Death Binder or After Death Binder. I decided “Death Book” was just a little too creepy. It’s all the same binder. I’m only writing about one binder for this Complete Guide To Building An End-of-Life Binder. Yes, I’m still playing with titles. 🤣
I didn’t realize this until I started researching this article, but the End-of-Life Binder comes in many names and flavors. I see it also named an End of Life Planner, In Case I Die Papers, Beneficiary Folder, Last Wishes Planner, Emergency Planner Binder, Will Preparation, End of Life Planner, In Case I Go Missing. I’m certain there are many other names.
As I said, I’m sticking with Building A End-of-Life Binder under Death Preparedness for this article. Which is a level of preparedness few preppers get to.
A level of preparedness few preppers get to.
I made my end-of-life “folder” several years ago without any research. I added copies of my life insurance, my will, bills, home, cars, medical docs, etc.
My End-of-Life Binder grew as big as my emergency binder. Almost. It started as a school-type folder. You know, those two pocket folders with the bendable metal tabs that hold the 3-hole paper. Whatever. Anyway, it quickly grew into this 3-inch binder.
Security Concerns – Where To Keep Your Binder
The security concerns for building a binder full of your personal and private information are immense. If this binder is accessed, whether physical or digital, by the wrong people, the damage could be devastating.
A compilation of private information like this belongs in a safe, at the very least. The information needs to be encrypted and password protected if in digital format.
Storage & Security Options
We have two concerning factors when we store or hide our End of Life binder. Make that three.
- We need to keep this information out of the hands of bad characters.
- We need to protect the binder from physical damage.
- We need to be certain those that are supposed to gain access after our death can get to the binder and use it.
At home – A fireproof safe is what I’m using. My wife has the combination, and we have a letter for our children with instructions and the combination should we die together or at the same time. Or if the survivor isn’t capable of administrating the job.
The cloud – That was just a test. A joke of sorts. DO NOT keep stuff this important somewhere like Dropbox or Google Drive. That’s just my advice. You do you. But if LastPass can get hacked and spend months figuring out what was compromised and how to tell the customer, I figure anyone can be hacked.
The bank – A safe deposit box could work, but from experience, I know delays can be costly, and waiting for a bank to open and having the ducks in a row to access a safe deposit box is not ideal.
Also, this is just random stuff I’ve heard over the years but never verified – a bank may temporarily close the accounts of the deceased until after probate or the correct legal documents can be presented. A little investigating may be prudent if this might apply to your situation.
The trusted friend – Keeping your binder locked up with a trusted friend or family member might work well. They need to understand your privacy concerns and security and protection issues.
The executor of your will – This makes sense to me. Whether it’s your spouse, grown child, trusted friend, or a paid professional, the person trusted with the contents of your end-of-life binder would probably be trusted to keep it safe and secure until needed.
Your attorney – Another option would be to have the information with instructions for your loved one’s left behind to contact your lawyer. Hopefully, your lawyer isn’t on vacation golfing for two weeks on Hilton Head Island with his phone turned off in the resort suite.
IMPORTANT: No matter where you secure your End Of Life Binder, ensure your loved ones know where it is and how to contact the person keeping it. It wouldn’t do much good for your attorney to have your End Of Life Binder locked up in his safe only to discover your death weeks later by reading the obituaries.
Physical Binder vs. Digital Documents
There are pros and cons to both physical and digital binders. I’ve hit on a few of them already, but a physical after-death binder has to be stored in a safe or hidden from prying eyes. A physical binder can be a little tougher to keep updated, but I haven’t had any issues.
A digital version of your End-of-Life Binder must also be kept secure but takes up far less room. A simple thumb drive can fit in your shirt pocket, whereas a large 3-inch thick binder needs a somewhat large safe.
I remember when I first started blogging (2004ish), before cloud storage was a thing, I’d move my website updates between computers via a network or an external drive. I used one computer to build/edit the website and another to upload (FTP) it to the server. Later I started using thumb drives once they came out.
Then one day, not in band camp, I got an error message from the drive. And that was both my backup and transfer drive. I still had a good copy on the last computer I had used, but that made me trust external drives less. They do go bad.
So which do I use? Yep, I use both. I keep a hard copy in a binder and locked it in my safe. The other is on a thumb drive with a close friend and neighbor. And, yes, he has it locked up, it’s encrypted and password protected, and my wife has the password. He does not, but it’s in the physical binder at home. He will give it to my wife if needed.
None of it is in the cloud. At least not by my doing. Some of our digital lives are scattered all over the net, but why make things easy for identity thieves?
One more thing about online digital assets real quick. I have an article planned on passwords, encryption, and protecting our digital lives, but I want to remind you to keep passwords random, separate, and secure. Use two-step verification when available. I’m in the process of dumping LastPass and entirely re-vamping my password protection efforts. More on that in a month or two.
Professionally Prepared Legal Papers
This is a little beyond the scope of building an end-of-life binder, but it’s an option worth looking into. I think. As I mentioned, I’m no expert, but something like having a living will make sense for many people.
I believe I told this story in the previous article of the Death Preparedness Series, so I won’t go in really deep here. My father paid thousands of dollars for a living will. Honestly, I think, in his case, it was a waste of money. He had few assets, and I had never seen the binder they left with him, and I was the executor of his will.
If you go the professional route, make sure the person or people you’re doing it for knows you have papers drawn up by a professional service and where to find these papers after you die. I had nothing, not even the company’s contact information that made his living will. I also couldn’t find a copy in his house. If you go that route, something like that should be in your end-of-life binder.
Note: There are real legal reasons to look into a professional last will and testament made, living will, estate planning, etc. I’m not qualified to talk about these, but I do want you to understand how important having things done right is.
For example, someone that fills out a $13 form they bought online as their last will and testament probably won’t regret that because they’d be dead. Their kids might regret it if there’s a custody battle and one of those fighting for your kids is the court, all because you didn’t have an acceptable document drawn up.
Like it needed a notarized signature, which you didn’t have. Or your state requires two witnesses, and you had one or none.
Now your ex-wife gets your investments and retirement because you haven’t married your fiancé, and there was no mention of them in the will.
Or you wanted your prepper buddy from Michigan over at Next Step Survival to have your home-canned pantry preps and now the kids are pouring it all out and throwing away the jars. This happened to my mother-in-law’s pantry. One of the grown kids, my brother-in-law, poured everything out (because of the weight) and threw away dozens of Mason jars they brought up from her cellar. Such waste could have been eliminated within an after-death binder.
Some things are too important to guess.
Those of us DIYers (do-it-yourselfers) may not even know the right questions to ask legally for the State we live in and own property.
Again, beyond the scope of this article. Right now, we’re just trying to ease our minds by making our final wishes as clear as possible for those tasked with cleaning up our life details.
What Goes In Your End Of Life Binder?
What doesn’t go in there? Let me tell you, we think we live quiet and simple lives, but once you start getting knee-deep into creating your death binder, you’ll see just how complicated things have become.
I list all the different forms, docs, and information I can think of, including what I’ve found during research. I will add a lot of information to this list that doesn’t apply to you or me. I want this build your End-of-Life Binder guide to be as complete as possible for as many people as I can.
This guide is designed to help you decide what to include so you can customize your own End-of-Life Binder by using only what applies to your life and situation. Decide what works for you and get started. If I’ve forgotten anything, add it to your binder, and PLEASE let me know in the comments below.
The more complicated you make your binder, the more critical an index page. This is entirely up to you. As I mentioned, I thought I led a simple life until my binder grew into several hundred pages. An index page is a must for a binder of this size.
Funny side note. As I was trying to figure out how to video my Oh Snap, I Died” binder, the index page was about the only page I wouldn’t have had to cover or hide personal information. It’s also the most important page to share, I believe.
In Case Of an Emergency
Even though this entire binder is an “in case of emergency” prep, the first page of my “Oh Snap, I Died” binder is an in case of an emergency page – even before the binder index page.
This page is a copy of the same paper I keep in my wallet.
It has my emergency contact list, primary doctor information, allergies, current medications, and medical conditions and issues if needed. It also has my blood type included.
Last Will And Testament And/Or Living Will
You’re Will should be written up by a professional, in my opinion. At least if you have dependants and large assets like a home, investments, and other property. Depending on your assets, an attorney may point you to a living will and certain tax shelters. Again, above my pay grade. I’m just thinking out loud here.
A handful of items that you may be able to address in a will are:
- End-of-life wishes
- Heirs & beneficiaries, and guardians.
- Obituary notice wishes. You can decide now on the photo to use and the words outlined.
- Contacting Family & Friends
- Funeral and end-of-life arrangements. What goes on a monument? Do you wish to be cremated or buried? Do you qualify for a military funeral or military honors? Stuff like that.
Power Of Attorney
Some of the steps mentioned in this guide may need a power of attorney to be accomplished. For that reason, I’ll add it to the list right after the “in case of an emergency” and index pages. You decide whether or not it will be necessary based on the level of death preparedness you decide to take.
Basic Personal Information
You want the basics in one spot, like your binder, to help your loved one fill out any forms. This is especially helpful if that person isn’t familiar with the information. My wife, for example, knows most of my details as well as I do, if not better. After the shock of my dying, though, who knows? She may even need the help of one of my grown children.
- Basic Information: Names, addresses, phone numbers, date of birth, driver’s license number, social security number, etc. Don’t forget to include your adult & minor children.
Copies of Important Documents
What’s the best document to have in hand during an emergency? The original. That’s another topic but protecting your documents from theft or physical harm, such as a flood or fire, is crucial.
If you can’t produce an original for whatever reason, a copy of that document might help. A certified or notarized copy is often better than a photocopy, but sometimes it’s just as worthless – today. Depending on the emergency, we don’t know what the rules will be or what will be considered acceptable.
I mention various forms throughout this article, but I’ll list what I can come up with. Some are redundant (Mentioned elsewhere in the article). I’ll miss a bunch, I’m sure. Let me know in the comments if you see something I forgot or just got wrong.
Documents or copies:
- Marriage license
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Adoption records
- Titles to vehicles and property
- Property deeds
- Social security cards and forms
- Retirement documents
- Certificates of authentication
- Gun permits or carry license
- Driver’s license or state ID
- Graduation certificates
- GED certificate
- Hunting and fishing license
- Business license
- Insurance policies
- Do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order
- Pet rabies vaccination certificate
- powers of attorney
- Living will
- Last will and testament
- Insurance policies (home, auto, personal property, etc.)
- Vehicle registration and titles
- Disability or unemployment records
- Retirement/pension/investment records
- Tax documents
- Passports, visas, immigration records
- Bank statements
- Personal ID, current photos, and fingerprints
Not only do you want to provide your account numbers but your online/app log-in information and legal documents giving them access would be helpful. Joint accounts and beneficiaries are something that can be taken care of early on. Like right now. Talk with your bank and financial institution to see what the options are. Don’t forget anywhere you receive a check or income from.
- Bank accounts and routing numbers.
- Investment names, account numbers, and contact/access information. Don’t forget your password and login information.
- Payroll information, including work H.R. contact numbers. A power-of-attorney may come in handy on a lot of this. Ask a professional.
- Retirement accounts, numbers, passwords, and information.
- Social security, military, and government pay and/or benefits.
- Rental and investment properties. These will likely require professional help, especially if tenants are involved. Don’t wait, it’s easier to prepare for the inevitable before you can no longer fog a mirror.
- Bills – Important enough for its own section. Read on…
I’m in my late fifties and haven’t written a paper check in years. Everything is auto-deduct and bill pay. What isn’t automatically debited from my accounts, I log in with my phone and pay with just a few clicks.
Whether I’ve passed away or become incapacitated, someone acting on my behalf could save a lot of financial grief and heartache later. I touched on this earlier, but if my Netflix and Pandora debits are paid from an account where funding has ceased, it will eventually become overdrawn.
Depending on your condition and the situation, some of those bills may need to be canceled. If you’ve passed away, you may not want to continue paying your cable bill, phone bill, and that monthly delivery of whatever. You may need to keep the electric and natural gas on while your house is being sold.
Regardless, the person handling all of this needs to know what’s going in, if it has stopped, what’s going out, and the ability to cancel what needs to be stopped. In other words, they need access to everything you do regarding paying your bills and instructions based on your wishes.
See how a little death preparedness can pay off in a big way as far as helping those tasked with picking up the financial pieces when you can’t?
Don’t forget those annual debits too. That annual gym membership or hosting package. Things like those aren’t always top of mind.
Medical & Health
Why would someone need your health history if you’re on ice somewhere? Remember, this binder could come in handy for serious injury as well. Medical and insurance information could be needed if you’re on a ventilator or in a coma for months.
- Health insurance company, policy numbers, and contact information. A copy of the medical insurance card/s should be included if possible.
- A list of your medications, what they are for, when and how they’re taken, and how to stop the auto prescription renewal if needed.
- Your primary care physician’s contact information.
- Shot and medical records or a way to access them if needed.
- Accidental death benefits policy, numbers, and information. How to apply for the death benefit.
- Dental plan policy.
- Short-term and/or long-term disability insurance and how to activate them.
- PPO or HMO plan information. Policy or subscriber and group numbers.
- Dental insurance plan.
- Vision insurance plan.
- Health Care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) – How to stop future payments, withdraw the balance, refund, or make payments using the fund.
- Critical Illness & Accident Insurance.
- Child support – Being paid out or received.
- Social Security disability.
- Retirement or disability – including Military retirement or disability.
- Home owner’s insurance policy. Numbers and how to stop it if necessary.
- Auto insurance. Don’t forget to include GAP insurance details (My insurance company played stupid until I mentioned I had it).
- Any loan protection insurance. Insurance you may have opted into during a loan application process, such as credit life insurance, mortgage protection insurance, credit disability, involuntary unemployment insurance, or credit property insurance.
Physical Assets – Cars, RVs, Boats, Other Valuables, Etc
This isn’t a replacement for your will. It lists your essential assets, where they are stored, and how to get to them. Any titles, deeds, or proof of ownership could also be included here.
I covered much of this in part one of The Death Preparedness Series, You Have Six Months To Live Part One. How To Survive That.
Again, if you have grandma’s antique gold broach, that should be included in a legal will.
This list was simple and, unfortunately, short for me. First, I don’t have a lot of things most people would consider assets. It was also easy because I have a separate folder with a list of valuables with photos and receipts for insurance purposes. That’s a completely different topic; maybe I’ll add that to my “articles to write” list.
Equipment & Devices
We all have devices lying around that require a password or pin. Don’t forget these.
- Your computers, laptops, tablets, and cell phones.
- I want to repeat it – they need your cellphone password. That’s so important for most of us.
- Your job or business equipment. For example, I have over a thousand dollars of equipment locked up at work. I have the list of gear and lock combinations in my binder.
- Keybox – I might be the only prepper weirdo to have this, but I keep my keys organized and locked in a key box. It would be a simple matter to force your way into this box, but I have the location of the hidden key in my binder. Why make it hard for people trying to help?
- Don’t forget your boat, trailer, hunting lodge, rental home, RV, cabin, gun cabinet, and storage unit. Key locations and combinations are essential items to add to your in-case-I-die binder.
Website & Online Login Information
I mentioned login information under bills and banking, but if you’re anything like me, there’s a lot more. I’ve stupidly kept a list of login information for my entire online life in a text document on Dropbox.
The document is gone now, but it came in handy when completing this binder section. As simple as hitting the print key. If you have this identity-killing document, you might need to clean it up before you print it out or store it in your digital binder.
Mine went from 43 to 26 pages long after I cleaned up the deleted or irrelevant accounts. My social media accounts were ten pages long by themselves. (I have a lot of websites, many of which have their own social media profiles).
Don’t forget things like
- Usernames, passwords, and pins.
- Log-in URLs (Web addresses)
- Third-party authentication details. (They’ll likely need access to your cellphone for this)
- Security or secret questions & answers for unregistered devices and password retrieval.
Note: If you use a password management tool, don’t forget the master password and login information. Accessing and knowing how to use the password manager would benefit your after-death or after-sickness guardian. It would also be invaluable to thieves, so keep this entire binder secure.
Pets Are People Too
Don’t forget your pets. Who’s going to take care of them when you can’t? This should all be in writing and pre-approved by those being volunteered. Whether a 100-pound dog or a tiny hamster, don’t pass them to your sister or brother without knowing they’re good with that and can handle it.
- Who will care for and feed your pets if you’re in the hospital or worse?
- Who’s you’re pet’s veterinarian, and is emergency access to the documents in place?
- You’re pet’s medical history, records, and vaccinations.
- A list of allergies, special needs, likes, and quirks a new mom or dad would need.
- Favorite foods, treats, and tricks they can do.
- Favorite toys, blankets, etc.
Don’t Forget Your Business
I can’t go into much detail here, but your business might require a separate end of life binder. It will likely require professionals such as tax and business attorneys and accountants. This is way out of the realm of my expertise.
Final Words & Wishes
I have a note for my wife and kids. Honestly, it was tough to write, but I believe it will be valued when it comes time to read. I’m considering the idea of recording a goodbye video.
Conclusion And My Personal Note
I hope this article has helped you in some way. Remember, make this your own and put together an After-Death binder that makes sense for you and the situation you and your family are in. Add or remove anything you want. Your binder will be as unique as you are.
And good luck. I’m not going to lie – making an end-of-life binder can be a pretty big project. At least the one I made took me weeks of spare time, and it’s still growing. Once finished, it will just be a matter of updating the information once or twice a year.
Call To Action / Next Step
Did you miss part one of The Death Preparedness series? You Have Six Months To Live. How To Survive That.
Stay safe. Stay prepared.
God Bless. Hawkins out!