When we designed IF YOU LOVE THEM LEAVE THEM LISTS!, we focused on breaking this great info-organization task into manageable bites that could be addressed one section at a time. Even within each section, you can take it one step at a time – fill in the most important parts first and come back later to add more detail.
There is no right or wrong way to put your information together, as long as it is clear enough for those who will use it to get what they need.
We have been asked a few times why we chose to stick with paper rather than going electronic. We spoke with a few companies that handle document protection, and they all voiced the same sentiment – “When I die, my spouse’s first thought will not be my computer. They will look for paper.” (Note that, upon request, PDF versions of the paper forms will be available for a nominal fee.) Keep in mind that whatever is kept on a computer, in the cloud, or on a website is not as safe an an unhackable paper document, though that too should be kept in a safe place.
While some people will write in the book directly (thereby keeping everything neatly in one place), others will want to do it differently. How you do it is far less important than that you do it.
My personal approach is to take each section and focus on just one part at a time. I need to go through this process myself so I have begun with the People section and am focused on making sure that I list anyone that my representatives (my kids in my case) could need to speak with, from my bank manager to the person who will help them clear out the house when I am gone. If I become ill, I will need them to be able to contact my doctor(s) and they will need a copy of my medical history (I didn’t always live in Montreal where the records are now online).
My second section to tackle will be the digital footprint. Because my life touches several different domains, my representatives will need access to my computers and other devices. And they will need to know what I want to do with the data on them. When you are tackling this section, you may want to tackle the filing system on your computer as well – not all of us have well-ordered files for our various endeavours and records. There will be some that they can delete without a second thought, but there will be others that will need to be consulted (online bank and investment statements, utilities, photographs).
You might also want to consider making it a family project. Involving family members in the process can facilitate the important family discussions that need to take place while you are still able to have them. Knowing that the necessary information is in place also provides peace of mind – things will be much easier for those who care for you while you are alive and equally once you have left them behind. And don’t forget to let them know what to do with your “stuff”.