When faced with the death or disability of a spouse or loved one, it is difficult to focus.  Often, during my career as a Wealth Advisor, I have started out assisting couples so that the one that is not involved with the financial matters has someone knowledgeable to turn to should the ‘financially involved” person become disabled or pass away first. It’s been my experience that even the most astute financial partner (especially in long term relationships 30, 40, 50 or even 60+ years) experiences anxiety when their loved one dies or becomes incapacitated. If you are a single person, it is even more important to prepare your “What if” file as you may be the only one that knows your circumstances.  In addition to working with an experienced financial professional that understands your family finances, and what’s important to you, it is helpful to create a “What if” file for your loved ones.  This file serves as a road map for your family to navigate the difficult decisions and reduce stress.

What should your “What if” file look like?

The foundation of your file should include the following information and documents:

  1. Your estate documents including, wills, trusts, healthcare directives, power of attorney and anything else pertaining to your estate and where the originals are located
  2. Birth certificate, marriage licenses, auto titles, property deeds & insurance policies
  3. List of household bills, credit card, mortgage, and loan information including any debts that are owed to you
  4. Professionals Contact Information – Wealth Advisor, Attorney, CPA, Insurance Agent, Spiritual Leader, etc.
  5. Personal financial statement with all assets listed, pension information, investment accounts, bank accounts, real estate, business interests, savings bonds, annuities, safe deposit box key and bank location
  6. Usernames and passwords for important accounts using care to store in a secure location
  7. Receipts for prepaid expenses burial, cremation etc.

Personal wishes in your file might include:

  1. What your wishes are, to be buried, or cremated. Where you would like to be buried and your wishes regarding the disposition of your ashes. Include what kind of service or celebration would you like and obituary guidance. This helps alleviate potential family disagreements and makes the process less stressful for everyone.
  2. Confer with your estate attorney about including with your will a separate writing indicating which personal items go to whom. This can reduce potential family discord in the future.
  3. Include family and friends’ contact information. That way everyone can pay their last respects.


Your file can be digital (computer file), physical (notebook, etc.), video, or all 3.  It’s up to you.

If your family members are scattered across the globe, scanning the documents into a digital folder or creating a video may work best.  If you want to include sentimental items, a physical folder may work best. Digital or video files help protect against loss due to fires, or natural disasters like hurricanes as many of us have just experienced.

One of the most comforting and touching items I’d suggest you include in your “What if” file is letters and/or a video for loved ones. Photos, thoughts, and recanting times together can help solidify lasting cherished memories.

Consider a family meeting with your family, attorney, and wealth advisor to review your estate plan and discuss how and why you and your attorney set it up this way. This may also be a good time to inquire with family members to see if they have an interest in any of your personal items.

Thinking about and preparing for death or disability can be difficult but partnering with a good wealth manager and attorney can make this planning more manageable.  Once accomplished, this will make things easier for your loved ones and will eliminate much stress in the future.


By Robin L. Cook, Wealth Advisor, Suncoast Prosperity Advisors