Skip to content


Get Your Files in Order

It took the unfortunate sudden death of a friend’s parent to get us thinking about how we need to organize the electronic aspects of our lives. So many critical documents are stored on devices or in the cloud, and survivors need to know where they are when a loved one dies.

We must say upfront that while my father is a lawyer, we are not providing legal advice. And while everyone’s situation will be different, there are some general rules of thumb you can follow to make sure that people can access all required electronic documents stored online or hard copies stored in safe places (that many have forgotten). Having the info is half the battle when you need to meet myriad legal requirements.

Depending on your age and marital status as you read this, you may already have access to legal and financial documents such as wills, trusts, insurance policies (life, health, and disability), and bank and brokerage accounts. But you need to know where electronic records are stored online, and you’ll need usernames and passwords. For some families, this may present difficulties, but not being able to settle a loved one’s affairs efficiently will only cause more heartache and increase delays and costs.

Let’s look first at where to find documents and records.

Today, most people bank online and have investment accounts online either independently or through a financial advisor. Each of those is likely tied to a website, which should be heavily secured with a username and password. Now would be a good time to review that information with people who will need to manage your affairs and make sure they know where to find it.

Wills, trusts, insurance policies, and similar types of documents are likely to be stored as paper documents, and they also could be stored as scanned documents on an individual’s computer system – which, hopefully, has been backed up to a secure cloud server. With all financial services providers and others trying to go paperless, there’s a good chance they already have everything online, too.

Besides these personal documents and assets, there may also be deeds for property investments and business agreements, such as partnerships.

If nothing else, families should have an inventory of all necessary documents, including where they’re located: a safe or vault, filing cabinet, computer hard drive, the cloud, etc.

Next, let’s look at access.

We’ve already touched on usernames and passwords for the websites where the critical information is stored. There are two ways to keep that information, and we recommend using both. The first, and most obvious step, is to have a password manager with a strong master password. Just keep in mind that master passwords can be changed, so everyone who needs it should be informed when it’s changed. Also, the master password is just about always impossible to recover, so treat it carefully.

The second step is to have a printed copy of websites, usernames, and passwords stored in a safe location. If you use a password manager, you can always download and print all the information, but be careful. When a website requires a password change, password managers generate new ones with complex random codes. Make sure someone downloads a list once a month.

Additionally, there should be access to a computer, mobile device and email accounts. This will give those who need it the ability to locate people and other information to help settle affairs.

As a sidebar to all this, there should be a plan to close out or transfer social media accounts. It’s just one of those loose ends that can cause problems if not tied up.

We can help you with the organizational and technology issues, such as finding and locating documents and records; setting up a filing system; selecting an appropriate password manager; and selecting providers for and implementing a backup program. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs.