Where is Everything

Mom, looking for her passport

My 90-year-old mom was suddenly really sick last week and my husband Malcolm and I had a serious, “Do we know where everything important is?" moment. Mom had filled out an advanced directive and I have durable power of attorney and medical power of attorney. (All this because of writing our book…) Her bank account and stocks were in her trust. But I didn’t know where her birth and marriage certificates were. So when she happily recovered from that weird illness, we sat down and went over everything again. I discovered that she was a beneficiary of her sister’s life insurance policy and she had a life insurance policy. Mom had a deed to mineral rights in Oklahoma and she had a bond. None of it was in the trust. Was it in her file cabinet or desk? No. The birth certificate was in a manila envelope marked “jewelry” in the third drawer down in her dresser. Her marriage certificate was in a plastic file folder with my dad’s stuff. The life insurance policy that she had was on the pedestal by the plants. You get the picture. It would have taken weeks to find all of that.  Because of my talk with Mom, we were able to deal with everything. And we both felt good. (Unlike last year when she said, “You took the box marked Christmas Decorations to the Goodwill? My gold coins were in that box!”) It made Malcolm and I realize that we need to put as much information as we can in one place—preferably a fireproof box or safety deposit box. Besides birth and marriage certificates, passports, and our kids vital info, there needs to be a list of bank accounts, passwords for those accounts, our life insurance policies and a list of organizations that will give death benefits. As writers we have agents and publishing houses that send royalties. Those names need to be in the box. In our book, we give a list of documents and items that need to be identified, but there is also a great site that offers forms that you can print out and fill out. It was mentioned in the New York Times—it’s called The Big Book of Everything. It’s compiled by Erik A. Dewey. And it’s free. Erik has left no stone unturned. Do your relatives and loved ones a favor. Print it out, fill it out, put it in your fireproof lockbox and stuff it in that cardboard box labeled Goodwill.