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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Pihl

How to Make Sure Everything Is Taken Care of When You Are Gone

The ICE Binder

Your "In Case of Emergency" Binder is designed to be an aid to your loved ones and caregivers in the event that you are unable to answer their questions. It will include instructions for your medical care in the event that you are incapacitated, as well as your estate planning documents, such as a trust, will, and power of attorney.

But what makes the "ICE Binder" different from the documents prepared by your attorney is that it goes beyond your estate plan, and into the nitty gritty of how to actually get everything done. This can include account passwords, as well as funerary preferences. It might also include instructions for your surviving spouse or next of kin on how to handle your financial assets after your passing. 

Different levels of detail may be shared with different parties. You might, for instance, want everyone to know that your daughter Sally has health care and/or financial power of attorney, but you might not want to publish your entire net worth summary page for the whole family to see. Include that instruction on the summary page.

In assembling this binder, each major bullet point gets its own page or its own section, and the sub-bullet points refer to information to include under that heading. For instance, “Contact information for relevant professionals” will probably be one page, and will list names and contact information in a list format, and include the following people, and maybe some others if you think of them. 

The idea is that this binder gives your spouse and next-of-kin everything they will need to handle the issues that come with your passing.

The components:

  • Summary

  • Estate Documents and instructions for access

  • Letters to loved ones

  • Estate Documents

  • Trust Documents

  • Pourover Will 

  • Advanced Medical Directive and Living Will

  • Health Care Power of Attorney

  • HIPAA Authorization

  • Financial Power of Attorney

  • For each estate document, 

  • Who prepared it and when?

  • Where is the original copy?

  • Who is the executor or trustee? 

  • Who are the alternate executors or trustees?

  • Contact information for relevant professionals

  • Doctor/Hospice Worker

  • Financial Advisor

  • Estate Attorney

  • Accountant

  • Business Attorney

  • Funeral Home Coordinator

  • Contact information for key family members and friends

  • Identifying Documents

  • Birth Certificate

  • Driver’s License/Passport

  • Instructions for Care of Children

  • Are there any children you are responsible for caring for? This might apply mainly to the younger crowd, as well as any grandparents who have primary responsibility for the care of their grandchildren, foster kids, or any others

  • Who is instructed to care for them in your absence?

  • What financial resources are available to them? In what form (trust, etc)? How are those assets made available (lump sum, income, annual percentage, etc)? 

  • If assets are left over after the child reaches the age of majority, when and how are those assets made available to the child, and for what? 

  • Others Who Depend on You

  • Pets

  • Who has agreed to care for your pets in your absence?

  • What resources will be made available to them to cover the financial costs of doing so?

  • Family, friends, neighbors

  • What other people do you have responsibilities to? Is there an elderly neighbor you help drive to the grocery store each week? Have you discussed with this neighbor who they might rely on if you were unable to help them?

  • Financial Instructions for Surviving Spouse

  • What professionals can they reach out to for guidance going forward? Your financial advisor and your accountant are two good examples. Likewise any contact information for business partnerships or private investments. 

  • What bills are paid regularly, and from which accounts?

  • When income is received, which accounts is it deposited in? What changes will occur when you are no longer around?

  • Are there large lump sum expenses to set aside money for?

  • Are there expenses that can be canceled once you are no longer around?

  • Funeral Preparations

  • Instructions for your remains

  • Procedure selected (organ/body donation, cremation, burial, niche in columbarium)

  • Casket/Urn choice, or price-range

  • If burial or columbarium, selection of location

  • If cremation, immediate or after ceremony

  • Preference for where to scatter ashes

  • Contact info of individuals or organizations responsible

  • Ceremony

  • Location/Contact Info

  • Public/Private?

  • Body Present? Open/Closed Casket

  • Type of Service (Religious, Military, Other)

  • Eulogy (name and contact information)

  • Music selections and musicians

  • Readings

  • Reception/Celebration of Life, if desired

  • Location/Contact Info

  • Public/Private

  • Photos

  • Food and Drink

  • Obituary

  • Name

  • Date, and Place of Birth

  • Surviving Spouse, Ex-Spouse (if desired)

  • Children, Siblings, Grandchildren, Nieces/Nephews

  • Hobbies, Employment, Personal Interests

  • Memberships/Communities

  • Values

  • Public/Private

  • Flowers, send to:

  • Or, “in lieu of flowers send donations to:______”

  • How to notify people, who and how to notify: 

  • Organizations you’ve belonged to, such as:

  • Church groups

  • 12 Step groups

  • Community organizations (Elks, Lions, Kiwanis…)

  • Key people and contact info for each area of your life

  • Family, extended family

  • Golf/Tennis clubs

  • Service groups

  • Regular meet-ups

  • Collectors clubs

  • Old friends from work

  • Friends from travel

  • Out of town friends

  • Social Media, if desired

  • Account Passwords, including

  • Computer passwords

  • Phone access code

  • Email password/access

  • Social media accounts

  • Netflix/Hulu/etc passwords

  • Safe Deposit Box Access

  • Financial assets and beneficiary information

  • Bank accounts

  • Account Title, Description

  • Institution and Contact Info

  • Account Number

  • Statement

  • Beneficiary

  • Brokerage accounts

  • Account Title, Description

  • Institution and Contact Info, Advisor Contact Info

  • Account Number

  • Statement

  • Beneficiary

  • Retirement accounts

  • Account Title, Description

  • Institution and Contact Info, Advisor Contact Info

  • Account Number

  • Statement

  • Beneficiary

  • Pensions and Annuities

  • Account Title, Description

  • Institution and Contact Info, Advisor Contact Info

  • Account Number

  • Statement

  • Beneficiary

  • Insurance Policies (Life Insurance, Disability Insurance, Long-Term Care Insurance, Umbrella Liability Insurance, Auto Insurance, Home Insurance, Health Insurance)

  • Account Title, Description

  • Institution and Contact Info, Advisor Contact Info

  • Account Number

  • Statement

  • Beneficiary

  • Property

  • Real Estate

  • Property title 

  • Is it titled in your trust? 

  • Current occupants and contact information

  • Instructions for care of property

  • Insurance Policies

  • Personal Property (such as furniture, kitchen wares, tools) 

  • Are there specific pieces to leave to specific people, especially anything of sentimental value?

  • If assets are not sentimental, what plans or instructions can you share for an orderly liquidation?

  • Vehicles and RVs

  • Make, Model, Year, VIN

  • Any money owed, payments, and contact information

  • Location, and access instructions

  • Warranty information, instructions for care and maintenance

  • Any special instructions for sale or inheritance?

  • Insurance Policies

  • Collector’s items

  • Are there specific pieces to leave to specific people, especially anything of sentimental value?

  • If assets are not sentimental, what plans or instructions can you share for an orderly liquidation?

  • Insurance Policies

  • Debts

  • Auto loans

  • Copy of statement with contact information

  • Credit cards

  • Statement with information on how to pay it off. Be sure to discuss with your estate attorney what has to be paid off from funds in the estate

  • Mortgages

  • Copy of mortgage statement with property address, mortgage company contact information,

  • HELOCs and HECMs

  • Private Agreements

  • Creditor Name and Contact Info

  • Amount

  • Terms and Status

  • Copy of Agreement

  • Taxes

  • Accountant contact info

  • Location of tax returns

  • Copy of Recent Estate/Trust tax returns

  • Copy of Recent 1040 tax returns

  • Information for preparing your final tax return

  • Government Benefits (Social Security, PERS, Disability, Survivor’s Benefits)

  • Income (current or expected)

  • Program name and contact info

  • Account name and identification

  • Passwords

As you can see, this binder will contain a lot of sensitive personal and financial information. It is very important not to store this someplace where it can get stolen. At the same time, you want to make sure that it is reasonably accessible for updates, as well as to the executor of your estate. 

Storing these documents:

  • Hard copies: 

  • Password-protected thumb drive, and then keep the thumb drive in a safe. 

  • Some estate attorneys and financial advisors will store copies of these documents for you at their office. Be sure to provide instructions on who has access to read these forms.

  • A safe deposit box at your local bank, with instructions on who has access, where to find the key, etc

  • Virtual copies: Some estate attorneys and financial advisors will have the means to store documents for you in the cloud. Make sure that the storage system is encrypted, password protected, and 2-Factor-Authentication protected. You can also store your own documents similarly, if you have the know-how. 

  • I recommend that you keep both a hard copy and a digital copy so that your heirs/kids/executor will have guaranteed access.

  • Provide your executor/heirs with the contact info of whoever is storing these documents. Also make sure that they have the means to access the information. 

Organizing These Documents:

I would use a series of folders (digital and physical), one for each of the above bullet points, all held inside one master folder (digital) or binder (physical). 

One Last Note:

As onerous as it is to pull all this information together before your passing, think how much more onerous and exhausting it will be for those who are left behind. There are a lot of decisions to make. Rather than leave them to guess at what you would have wanted (and possibly sorting out disagreements and different recollections amongst themselves), you can give them complete certainty about what to do and how to do it. This is a tremendous gift to give to those you leave behind. Not only the freedom to grieve without the overhang of extra administrative stress, but the knowledge that they have done everything you would have wanted.

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