Things to do before you die: document your life.

by fgben

My father surprised the hell out of everyone a couple weeks ago and passed away suddenly. In dealing with the aftermath, here’s some things I recommend:

  1. Take care of your health now. No, really. You’ve got one body. Damage can be cumulative, invisible, and irreversible.
  2. Document your life. Accounts, vendors, contact numbers. Bank accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts. Power, water, utilities. The Netflix password. Monthly services. Insurance policies. Most companies have a process to handle these transitions, but you need to know whom to call. Having a single reference document that has a list of “this is the stuff in our lives” is just useful to have. Keep it secure, but have something put together.
  3. If you have dependents, have a term life insurance policy. Get a 30 year term policy in your 30s or 40s. My $1M policy is less than $50/month. My wife’s is even cheaper at $35. We’ve had our policies for 5+ years; that same policy now we’re in our mid-40s is almost 3x as expensive.
  4. Have a will. Have advanced health directives. Let people know how you want your remains handled — cremation, burial, fed to the birds, whatever. Having as much as possible decided beforehand takes the burden away from people having to make hard decisions at a time when their personal bandwidth may be otherwise occupied. Let people know. Write things down.
  5. If you’re going to register as an organ donor, someone who works with the Coroner’s Office is going to call with a 30 minute questionnaire they need to go through. This call may come in the same day or the next day (as time is of the essence); anyone can answer these questions to the best of their knowledge, but be aware it’s a Thing. The call can be handed off to someone else — my mother was not prepared to talk to the nice lady about cutting out my father’s eyeballs, but I took the call and got to answer questions about my father’s sexual history to the best of my knowledge.
  6. It is bad security practice, but write down significant passwords (computer, email, phone PIN) and keep them in a safe place. Unless you’d rather keep all that locked down forever, which is also fine as long as you’ve got Step 2 in place. If you use a password manager, keep the master password somewhere they’ll find when you’re gone. Or most modern password managers have a dead man’s switch.

Programmers joke about documentation all the time. But at the end of the day, the documentation is there to help the next person. If one member handles all the finances and taxes and such, leave enough information so it’s easier for those left behind to figure out what the hell is going on — they’re going to be having a hard enough time as is.

If you’re all alone, on the plus side you don’t have to worry about any of this shit. So you’ve got that going for you. Which is nice.

Edit: once you’ve got your basic accounts documented, go to the next level and look into setting up trusts and power of attorney. Add beneficiaries to your accounts. You can do this through the ui really easily at Ally or Vanguard; other vendors should have similar. Look into “transfer upon death” stuff for accounts and properties.

Edit: the point of the documentation is so someone knows what you have and whom to call. The passwords are a separate issue: do not go and drain all the accounts post-mortem just because you can log in. Make sure you have someone else’s name on a bank account so they can use it to pay bills while everything gets settled and transferred, if it came to it. This can take weeks or months.

Edit: a really simple cremation and nice metal urn cost us a little under $4k (including 15 Death Certificates). If you ask for a senior discount as a joke they might knock a couple hundred bucks off.

Edit: it might be helpful to pull a free credit report before reporting the death to the SSA (I didn’t think to do this until a couple days later, at which point all attempts to pull the CR failed). A detailed report will show lists of accounts, which can be helpful. You might still be able to get a report with a Death Certificate; I’m still figuring this part out.

Edit: removed advice about generating unique passwords because people can’t stop letting the perfect be the enemy of better. Yes, it’s not the best thing to do. Yes, it’s still miles better than a single reused password.


Disclaimer: This content does not necessarily represent the views of IWB.


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