One Thing You Must Do if You’re a Family CEO

Managing Money / Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Dave Ramsey calls it a Legacy Drawer. My husband, Tom, calls it a Doomsday Sheet. Whatever you decide to call yours, you must have one. I’m talking about a summary of financial info that your family would need if anything were to happen to you.

I know you don’t want to think about this. No one wants to think about it.

But if you’re the one who pays the bills, manages the savings and investments, and knows where the life insurance policies are kept, then imagine your family’s despair if – on top of all they’d be going through – they have to play financial detective in order to keep that side of things running too.

In case you think I’m speaking from a place of superiority, having done this long ago for my husband, I’m not. I finally got around to it this week, and at his urging.

He realized that the days of getting paper bills in the mail and pulling out the checkbook and stamps to pay them were long gone. How would he know what was due? And how to get into all our accounts?

So while I was still in number organizing mode from having gathered our tax stuff for the CPA, I sat at my computer and opened a Word document to type out all the details he’d need.

I started with my email login and password because that’s how most of our financial correspondence gets to us.

I went on to list the account numbers and login info for everything I could think of:

  • Bank accounts
  • Credit card accounts
  • Investment accounts
  • Mortgage
  • Health Insurance

Next I wrote out how everything gets paid:

  • For some things (utilities mostly) we still receive paper bills in the mail and I use our bank’s bill paying service to pay them.
  • Others (life, health & disability insurance, newspaper subscription, church tithe, and our Unbound sponsorships) are automatically debited from our checking account. So is Grant’s college bill, and you have to sign up for this arrangement at the start of each semester so more login and password info was needed there.
  • Our cable bill is automatically charged to our credit card in order to get the cash back.
  • Our credit card statement notices come via email and I go onto the card sites to reconcile and pay them.

Since I do the books for Tom’s business I included all of that detail too. Plus account and login info for my blogging side gig. (Those things were necessary because we’re self-employed. Other families will need to include employee benefit info. Are there accounts to log into? How much life insurance is through work? And who in the human resource department can provide guidance?)

It turns out there was a lot of detail. It’s stuff I’ve done for so long I don’t even think about it, but it would be frustrating for someone to have to figure it all out in my absence.

Once I was done I printed off a copy of the info for Tom to keep in a place that makes sense for him. I included another copy in my office where the financial paperwork is kept.

And I resolved to keep it updated. Tax season seems like a good time to do that each year. Maybe I can link the two together like Daylight Savings Time prompts us to change the smoke detector batteries?

This undertaking was done with Tom in mind, but it was a good exercise for me, too. Specifically, having everything in one place has me looking for ways that I can simplifyShould I

  • Reduce the number of accounts we have?
  • Streamline bill paying?
  • Outsource the business payroll? (Payroll would be especially difficult for Tom to have to suddenly tackle. Other things could wait a bit, but employees need to be paid.)

I knew this would be helpful to him, but I didn’t realize it would benefit me as well.

So now I challenge you to do the same.

And this task is important for families of all kinds. Don’t think you’re off the hook if you’re a family of one. Even singles need to put together something that will guide those responsible for sorting things out the financial details.

And what if you’re one of the few reading this blog who is not the family numbers nerd? Someone else is responsible for all the bill paying and paperwork? Then you need to ask that person to do this for you. And keep after them until they do.

10 Replies to “One Thing You Must Do if You’re a Family CEO”

  1. i have been pestering my husband for years about this! Especially login and passwords for a myriad of investment and brokeridge accounts. To no avail! He likes keeping me in the dark, and I have a sense that he almost doesn’t want me to know what we have! I do know what bills need to be paid and how they are paid,but that is about all. And for families like ours that do our own taxes, and have no other professionals, it is super important to have this info. Well, you have inspired me to try once again. We are not getting any younger ( he always jokes and wants to know why I expect to outlive him!)

  2. This so timely. I was looking for something like this. A dear friend recently lost her husband unexpectedly at age 53. It is so important to have this information. Thank you making this outline Julie.

  3. I need to do this, too. A word of caution, though, about putting full blown usernames and passwords for financial websites in a Word document. Not a good idea, even if password protected.

  4. So glad you mentioned that it’s even important for families of one. My younger brother died suddenly at age 30 and we were so lucky that he had all of his financial information in one small file box. It made everything so much easier for my dad to take care of details of closing accounts, doing taxes, and paying final bills after his death.

    1. Erin, thanks for your comment. I’m so glad for your Dad that your brother took the time to do that. I am sorry for your loss.

  5. Dave Ramsey says “Don’t leave a mess!”

    You forgot that leaving each other (spouses) power of attorney saves you a lot of headaches if the worse should happen. Having both names on things like cars and mortgages are extremely important or you go through probate for your own vehicle. And probate costs a hefty percentage of the house’s value even if your mortgage is underwater. Then get multiple copies of certified death certificates.

    My brother has been recently divorced with one child. I had him put me on his car and make me the beneficiary of his life insurance policy so that we know his daughter will get what is intended, via me, rather than move his assets into the control of his ex-wife. This regardless of the fact the child just turned 18.

    And many a widow has discovered that if none of the bills were in her name, she has no credit and can’t get the utilities into her name.

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