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The When I'm Gone File is a white storage box on a white surface.

The When I’m Gone File – Not Just For Your Estate Planning Documents and Bank Account Information

A When I’m Gone File is an act of love.  It makes life so much easier for your grieving loved ones who are already struggling when you pass away.  As an Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney I spend most of my days thinking about, and talking to other people about, death, dying and planning for a disability.   For the vast majority of us, the timing of our passing will be unexpected.  I know it sounds morbid – but every adult needs a When I’m Gone File.   I have one, and I’m a healthy 50ish year old.   Preparing one will save your loved ones lots of time, heartache and money.

What is a When I’m Gone File and what should be in it?

It’s exactly what it says it is.  It’s the file for your loved ones that gives them the blueprint for what to do to wind up your financial and personal affairs.  I think it should also provide a personal message for your loved ones – some piece of you to hold on to and remember you by.

What Form Should This File Take?

It really does not matter.  Use what works for you, just make sure one or two trusted loved ones know where to find it and how to access it.  It can be a file on your computer, in the Cloud, in your home paper files, in your fireproof safe or a shoe box.  You choose.  Ideally, it’s a secure file stored in the Cloud – mine is stored in a OneDrive file.

What should be in it (this is a starting place – not a complete list)?

  • Estate Planning Documents – your trust, will, healthcare/advance directive and financial/health care powers of attorney, as well as contact information for the lawyer that prepared the documents.
  • Marriage, birth and divorce certificates.
  • Property records, including property deeds and car, boat, trailer and other titles.
  • Financial Account numbers and where to find the passwords. For security, I recommend the use of an online password manager, such as Last Pass, and then sharing the master password with one or two loved ones you trust.
  • Social Media, phone, computer, email, gaming, airline miles and other similar account information and where to find the passwords. This is so important because without this information your loved ones may be unable to manage the accounts as you would have wanted or be unable to recover your miles or other valuable online assets.  A great service to help with this is DCS – Directive Communication Systems,   It allows you to keep all of this information in one place and for designated love ones to access it on your passing.
  • Instructions for your funeral and the arrangements you want made.
  • Letters to loved ones, meaningful information and (possibly) an ethical will. These are so important.  What do you want your loved ones to know if you pass unexpectedly – what recipes do you need to pass on – what instructions do they need – what do you want them to know about your life?

Interestingly, taking the time to do this may also remind you to talk to loved ones now.  Make sure they know how much they’re loved.  But also, make sure they know how to make those cookies, how to start the fire, where to find the morels, how to dress a deer, how to plant the herb garden.  Whatever it is that you know how to do and have always done for everyone, and they would miss dearly along with missing you, make sure they know how to do it.  Plus, the time spent together now will be a blessing.

In my When I’m Gone File, which is still definitely a work in progress, here is what I’ve included:

Letters to my 3 boys and my sisters and a few beloved friends.  Essentially these are love letters and also an attempt, especially with the boys, to explain some difficult things, like my and their father’s divorce, in a meaningful and loving way.

Recipes – my pizza dough crust recipe, bread recipe, lasagna recipe and gingerbread cookie recipe.

There are some additional things I’d like to add – I’m working on it.

There’s no need to be overwhelmed by this.  It doesn’t all have to be prepared at once.  It can be done in steps and what’s in it can change as your life changes.  It’s just important to prepare one.

There are great resources out there with lots more information. Here are a few: Why You Need to Make a When I Die File – Before its Too Late, Time Magazine.

A Beginner’s Guide to the End, by BJ Miller, MD and Shoshana Berger,

The Forever Letter, Writing What We Believe for Those We Love, by Elana Zaiman,

Contact our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 for assistance regarding a When I’m Gone File or for information regarding Estate Planning or Elder Law.

** The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

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