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Facing your Own Mortality- Financially

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When tragedy strikes a family it is most often unexpected and can have lasting financial implications. It can be particularly difficult if the person that passes or becomes incapacitated is the the one who handled all of the family's finances.
Recently I found myself shocked by the lack of planning by a family member despite a long battle with cancer and the crushing aftermath her painful exit has left behind. Now, several family members, in an attempt to help her spouse, are coming together, sorting through old bills, new bills that are pouring in, to set up something to help decipher what is owed and what is already paid.

I suppose it's a matter of facing your own Mortality. While we know it is inevitable, we feel we have time and we can do it another day.
Folks, I've watched this happen over and over again in my own family so many times and each time the looming financial crisis that ensues due to lack of planning overshadows the families ability to mourn their loss.

As the person who handles all of the family finances, I would hate to think that in the midst of my unexpected death, my children, husband and other family members would be forced to sort through old bills, or spend countless hours on my computer trying to figure out who our creditors are, how much is owed, who to contact to pay, etc.

Some may argue, "Not to worry, if you owe them money, they will call". My response is, Yes, Perhaps they WILL call, but will you know how much is truly owed to them (if anything) and perhaps payments have already been made that weren't properly applied to the account, meaning you end up paying more than you should.
In all honesty, if you are mourning the loss of a family member, do you want to explain over and over again to various callers that "So & so died and I don't know how much I owe, etc".

If you are the person who handles the finances in your home, I implore you to take 20 minutes to put together the following information:

Need: 3 Ring Binder Or DVD

  • List of Bills Due (Monthly/Weekly/Yearly) See our Example (xls) Spreadsheet ( By using the Monthly Spreadsheet, customize it to fit your familys' needs , your family can see which bills are paid, whether or not the payments are in arrears, or up to date. )
  • Phone Numbers & Addresses of Each Creditor, as well as the amount owed
  • Birth, death and marriage certificates;
  • Social security cards;
  • Passports;
  • House/Property deeds, mortgage and home equity notes;
  • Vehicle Titles;
  • Insurance policies and agent contact numbers (House, Vehicle, Life Insurance, etc)
  • Complete List of Credit and debit cards & Contact Numbers for each;
  • Tax returns for the past three years;
  • The location of wills, trusts and powers of attorney;
  • Names and contact numbers for executors, trustees and guardians;
  • List of user IDs and passwords for online accounts, emails
  • List of Investment Accounts, IRA's

For Parents:

  • List of Each Child's Pediatrician & Contact Numbers
  • List of Any Medications/Vitamins the child takes, dosage, etc

These may seem a bit strange, but sometimes in the home one parent is the primary caregiver and the other parent is often working and has no clue of these things.

If you'd like, You can take this a step further and add the following items to create a complete Family Disaster Planner.

This is a binder/ booklet or DVD of Records that you can grab in the event of an Earthquake, Flood, Hurricane, Fire, Tornado, etc.

All of the Above Listed Items, Plus the following:
  • Medical records of each Family Member
  • Wills
  • Household Inventory (Including disk of photos) list of personal belongings- jewelry, furniture - brief description of each item, including the cost, age, manufacturer, and model and serial number (if available) for each item
  • Jewelry, Artwork, Collectibles- Appraisals (or copies of receipts)

The 20 minutes you spend today getting things in order may save your loved ones hours (or days!) of frustration during a sorrowful time best spent doing other things.

Just my .02

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  1. brchbell's Avatar
    And a very good .02 it is too! I was so glad when my sisters and I realized our father had terminal cancer that we stepped in and took over his financial affairs. When he had a gap in insurance we find one that would cover the gap. In the end we knew every creditor and ever doctor and bill. and yes there were several who came back with their hand out wanting to be paid when they already had been. Because we stepped in early, we gave our Dad a peaceful 8 months not having to deal with medical places wanting their money and because we each knew what was what, we were able to handle things quickly and enjoy our final month's with Dad. We spent 2 weeks cleaning our the house and had full closure quickly. It has helped everyone in our family take note and be prepared so they don't have big messes when they need to be dealing with what's most important. Great info to pass along!
  2. wilbe95's Avatar
    A few years back had this very argument with the DH. I was the one paying the bills, he was the one racking them up but never paid a single one. He soon learned when I refused to pay any bill. Today we work together on the finances.

    With living so far away from other family members one of my biggest fears is that something should happen to both the DH and myself and the boys are left trying to help a poor family member figure out who we owe and how much that we have done the very things you mentioned above. I have also included family medical information such as dates of surgeries and what it was for, birth dates, social security numbers, school records, activities the boys are in and the contacts, etc. We keep this all locked up in a fireproof safe (that is bolted to the cement floor) so that it will truly be safe and there should it ever be needed.

    I want to know that should something happen life for the boys will be able to continue on with as little disruption as possible.
  3. jaime's Avatar
    Thanks Liss for this great post. I am going to get started on this for my parents right away!!!