When a loved one is diagnosed with a debilitating illness, you may face the modern-day nightmare: How can you access the person’s computer where the bills were paid, investments made and post-death instructions may be waiting for you?
The lack of access to this critical information can signal the start of months — even years — of stress and hassle for you, added to the emotional grief already hitting you hard. But there may be a solution, as I discovered through personal experience.
Frank, the husband of my friend Karen, was suddenly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At the time, I was a practicing, certified hypnotherapist. As Frank got caught up in the chemotherapy treatments and the anxiety of what looked like a terminal disease, I told Karen I could offer hypnotism for his pain and for their anxiety and worry. Frank was quite a quiet, introverted Southern gentleman, so I did not expect him to accept. But he did, and she joined in.
How Hypnotism Rescued a Couple’s Finances
As his illness rapidly progressed, Frank decided to return home to die. But he couldn’t remember the master password to his computer. Trouble was, his pianist wife had left all the bill-paying and investing to him. Karen disliked computers and barely read emails sent to the account Frank had set up for her. She had no way to get into the computer to find the key financial documents necessary to begin handling the household finances.
Or so she thought.
One day, at at the end of our hypnosis session, I said I would ask Frank for his password. While in his trance, he gave it to me and I then quickly ran upstairs to plug it in. Voila! It worked!
Frank died just a few weeks later. It had only been two and a half months since his diagnosis.
Fortunately, Karen’s niece was tech savvy and financially savvy, making her then able to step in and assist. But without being able to get into Frank’s computer, Karen would have likely wasted months hiring someone to “break” into it.
In the age of modern computers and the internet, so much of our personal business is conducted “remotely” and online. Our bills are paid automatically via bank drafts or through credit cards. Religious dues, charitable gifts, insurance, loans, annual renewals of car registrations, pensions and Social Security checks are all received electronically and automatically.
How Are You Assembling What Loved Ones Will Need?
So, my question for you: Where have you recorded all this information, as well as your computer passwords, so those settling your affairs are not forced to rifle through your desk, files and checkbooks?
Most people will say: nowhere. To that, I say: it’s time to fix this.
A couple of years ago, when a late-winter storm hit and I was snowed in for three days, I decided I needed to finally get all of my key information together. I knew I’d need a checklist of some kind for my pending move to Minnesota a year hence. And I knew that once I began packing, this sort of nitty gritty, detail work would slip through the “I-will- get-to-it-later-crack,” so I made myself do it.
When my sisters came to visit months later — one a PC gal, another a Mac aficionado — I had copies for them and showed both how to get into my computer and how to understand my filing system.
I’ve always been a person who liked the control that charts, tables and checklists gave me, so I made a big, updatable table where all this information was listed, along with information needed after a death (having learned this from witnessing four deaths of friends and the effect on their remaining spouses).
I also prepared the necessary information for an official death certificate (ghoulish, I know) and a list of those who should be contacted after I pass away — friends in faraway places where I’ve lived and whom my siblings would not necessarily remember or even know about.
While I was at it, I even prepared my own memorial service with my favorite songs and readings. Why not? The idea was to make the aftermath of my death as easy as possible for those left behind to bring my life to closure.
It is a final act of love, don’t you think?
What You Should Put Together
So as a gift to you, here’s what I suggest you create to help your loved ones:
An introductory letter, noting where your estate planning documents (will, trusts, power of attorney); birth certificate and, if appropriate, marriage certificate; title to car and deed to your home are and how to get them. Also: a hard copy of all your important computer passwords and any wishes for a memorial service, funeral and burial.
A master list of your financial accounts (with any user IDs and passwords); credit cards; utility companies; charities you support (how much you give, how often and how you make the donations); health insurance, life insurance, homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, auto insurance, disability insurance; names and contact info for your medical professionals and financial professionals (accountant, lawyer, financial adviser); any entertainment/subscriptions you pay for automatically and your Social Security number.
Information about other things you own: cars, homes, boats, whatever.
A document of your legal data noting when you completed your will and where the will is as well as where copies are; who your executor is; who your estate lawyer is and how to contact that person; when you completed a health care power of attorney, where that is and any copies, who your health care agents are; where your living will is on file and your instructions about end-of-life wishes; and when your durable power of attorney for financial management was done, where it is and any copies are, who your attorney-in-fact and successors are.
A personal data sheet naming your family members and friends who should be notified, as well as how to reach them.
Disposition of your body instructions
A data sheet of information needed for a death certificate (it should include your Social Security number, legal residence, birthplace and date, father’s name and mother’s maiden name, marital status, spouse’s name, your occupation and education and, if appropriate, your military history)
Please do not put this off. Life can turn on a dime.
Take care of those who are left behind… now.
Next Avenue Editors Also Recommend:
- How to Organize Your Finances for Your Loved Ones
- What to Do Now to Help Your Survivors Later
- What Is a Health Care Power of Attorney?
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