Do you have an Emergency Binder set up with information and important documents to make emergency situations a little less stressful? What would happen if your husband passed away suddenly and you had no idea how to manage the family finances, or even how to access your bank account online?
Here’s why you need an Emergency Preparedness Binder, what to include in an Emergency Binder, and how to set one up so that you’re prepared.
I almost died.
About 7 years ago, after I had just given birth to our youngest daughter, I went to the ER because I hadn’t been feeling quite right.
Fast forward a few days, and I’m laid up in the ICU with the doctors telling me that it’s a miracle that I’m alive… You can read the whole story, (including how that instance changed my outlook on piles of laundry) here.
And after you have a traumatic experience, it makes you start asking questions about your life, like:
What if I had died? What would my husband do?
What if, God forbid, my husband and I both die?
Morbid, I know…
But, like I said, all it takes is an extended stay in the ICU for you to look at life differently.
For our family, my passing would mean a HUGE amount of STRESS for my husband.
of our finances…. By myself.
My husband can’t tell you the name of our mortgage company, or the password to our online bank account.
He couldn’t tell you what day our electricity payment is drafted, or the average monthly total for our water bill.
He couldn’t tell you what company our home owner’s insurance is with, or how to access our stock account.
If I died, he would be LOST.
And I bet that’s how it is for most families. Where only one person takes care of the day-to-day stuff like that.
Maybe in your family, you’re the clueless one. Maybe your husband handles ALL of the bills and accounts, and you’re blissfully unaware of your family’s financial state.
If that’s the case, then what would YOU do if your husband fell into a coma? Or had a heart attack? Or died in a car accident?
The loss of a family member can be stressful enough, without having to worry about begging and pleading with companies to give you passwords and account access without you being listed as an authorized user.
And without you worrying about a surprise payment being drafted out of your checking account.
So, I decided to be proactive and create an Emergency Binder, perfectly organized with all of the information that my husband would need in case of an emergency.
And I call it my…
“What If?” Binder
Which is basically my cutes-y way of saying “In Case of Emergency” Binder, instead of “Death” Binder or “Our House Was Destroyed by a Hurricane” Binder.
If you want to work on your emergency preparedness, too, then here are my best tips for how to create an Emergency Binder…
*This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission if you click a link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.
What is an Emergency Binder?
An Emergency Binder is a collection of important information and documents that is readily available in case of a natural disaster, family death, or a medical emergency that deems a household head incapable of performing household management duties.The Savvy Sparrow
Wow… I just made up that definition on my own, and now I’m considering a career change to write for Merriam-Webster. 🙂
An Emergency Binder should at the very least include personal information for everyone in your family, financial account information including auto-pay and pending transactions, usernames and passwords for online accounts, emergency contacts, and legal documents (or instructions for where to find legal documents).
Beyond that, your Emergency Binder can also include final wishes and funeral preferences, letters to loved ones, USB drives of family photos, etc.
Why do I need an Emergency Binder?
An Emergency Binder can make an already stressful event a little bit easier to bare.
Ready.gov, The Department of Homeland Security’s site dedicated to Disasters and Emergencies, says that
having access to personal financial, insurance, medical, and other records is crucial for starting the recovery process quickly and efficiently.Ready.gov
No, an Emergency Binder won’t help you grieve the loss of a loved one, or the destruction of the home where you raised your children.
But, it will help to alleviate the mountain of stress that comes in the aftermath of an emergency.
An Emergency Binder can be used to:
- Quickly find important documents for insurance claims
- Store or give locations of legal documents like social security cards, birth certificates, and wills
- Give surviving family members access to financial accounts
- Keep a record of important user names and passwords
- Let loved ones know of funeral preferences and final wishes
But most of all, it’s a way to look after your loved ones after you’re gone, by lessening the burden of after-death necessities.
In an article written for Time Magazine about the importance of a “When I Die” File, Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller said that “shutting down” the life of a deceased family member “was an agonizing process that took us nearly two years to complete”.
An In Case of Emergency Binder can make picking up the pieces and closing the final chapter of life that much easier for those you leave behind.
How to Create an Emergency Binder
There are a LOAD of options when it comes to how to make an Emergency Binder.
To create an In Case of Emergency Binder, you can:
- Scan in all documents and save to a USB drive with separate digital files for personal info, medical info, insurance policies, online account log-in info, etc.
- Create a FREE Google Drive with all necessary information and share the username and password with your estate manager or a family member
- Write down all necessary information and store in a 3-ring binder with separate dividers for each category
- Use the free tools provided by Ready.gov, like the fillable Family Emergency Communication Plan PDF
- Purchase a PDF version of an Emergency Binder that you simply print out and fill-in with all necessary information
What to Include in an Emergency Binder
Your Emergency Binder should include everything you would need to restart your life after a natural disaster, or everything your family should need if your household manager were to pass away or have a medical emergency.
However, with such a wealth of information, it’s important to have a good organizational system in place so that key documents can be found quickly.
Here is a checklist of important details and documents to include in your Emergency Binder, separated by category:
1. Personal Information for all immediate family members
- Basic contact information such as full name, address, phone number
- Social security number
- Driver’s License or ID # (if applicable)
- Email address
- Medical information including primary doctor’s name and contact info, allergies, current medications, prior hospitalizations
- Employer information including name and contact info
- School information for children including name of school, grade, and school contact info
- Space to attach a current photo
2. Insurance information
You should have insurance information including company names, policy numbers, and agent names and contact info for each of the following:
- All vehicles
- Home and/or Renter’s Insurance
- Boats and other assets
In addition, you should have the following information available for your medical insurance and life insurance:
- Medical insurance documents
- Insurance cards for each family member
- A summary of coverage information including co-pays, deductibles, limits, etc.
- Preferred doctors and hospitals
- Life insurance documents
- Copy of life insurance policy including company, agent name, and policy number
- Benefit amount
- Name and contact info for beneficiary
3. Emergency Contacts
Include name, address, and phone numbers for the following medical and professional emergency contacts:
- Primary Doctor
- Veterinarian (if you have pets)
- Preferred hospital
- Lawyer (if your will and/or trust documents are on file with one)
In addition, it’s important to leave contact information for those family and friends that will need to be contacted in the event of an emergency. You should include the following for each of your personal contacts:
- Phone number
- Email address
- Relationship to you
- Instructions for how you wish for that person to be contacted including any final letters that you have prepared for that person, etc.
4. Household Expenses
This section is mainly for surviving spouses that do not have experience in dealing with the household expense accounts.
Separate each expense by category:
- Mortgage or Rent
- Cell Phone
- Car Loan(s)
- Any other recurring monthly expenses like Netflix, Hulu, etc
- Car Insurance
- Home or Renter’s Insurance
- Health Insurance
- Life Insurance
Then, for each expense item include important details that your family would need to know to continue to successfully manage the finances including:
- Company Name
- Account Number
- Payment Address
- Monthly Due Date for payments
- Average Monthly Expense
- Website, username, and password for online account
- Whether or not auto-pay is set up for that account, and if so, the date of the bank draft
It may also be helpful to include a “Monthly Expenses at a Glance” page in this section to serve as a quick reference guide, like this:
5. Usernames and Passwords
In today’s digital world, so many of our affairs our handled online. It’s important to leave a list of usernames and passwords for ALL websites that your surviving spouse or children may need to access after your death.
Plus, you should include passwords and codes for the following:
- All family cell phones
- Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc)
- Home security system
- Home safe
- All home computers
- Home wi-fi
It can also be helpful to include a list of common security questions and answers, such as the name of your high school, the name of your first pet, the make of your first car… Questions that are commonly used to verify access to online accounts.
My printable Emergency Binder includes a separate worksheet to jot down security questions and answers:
6. Financial Account Information
It’s crucial that surviving spouses have access to all financial accounts to be able to easily assume the financial manager role for the family.
It’s stressful enough to grieve the loss of a family member, without also having to worry about a credit score reduction because of missed payments.
Here are some important financial details to include in your Emergency Binder:
- Bank name, phone number, and account numbers
- Debit card numbers and PIN numbers
- Online banking log-in information including website URL, username, and password
- Stock account information including brokerage name and contact info, account number, and online log-in information
- Information on retirement accounts and other investments
- Credit Card Information including card name, account number, due date, and online account log-in information
7. Final Preparations
This section should contain everything that a surviving spouse or other family members should need in the event of a death.
This is where you can outline your final wishes regarding your burial or cremation, funeral arrangements, obituary, etc.
In this section of your Emergency Binder, you should also include instructions for accessing Wills, Advanced Healthcare Directives, and Power of Attorney documents.
In addition, you may choose to leave sealed notes for family members (like a final good-bye), photos to be used for a funeral or obituary, and notes for how you would like family and friends to be notified.
8. Important Documents
It’s amazing how much paperwork a person can amass in a lifetime. Besides the obvious legal documents like social security cards, birth certificates, passports, and marriage certificates, you also need to include other documents that you may not think about in the event of an emergency.
Include things like:
- Pet vaccination records
- Military service records
- Vehicle titles
- Cemetery deeds
- Stock certificates
- School diplomas
- College transcripts
- Receipts for valuables
And, if you don’t want to include the actual documents themselves in your Emergency Binder, then leave detailed notes for where and how to access each important document.
I’ve included a worksheet in my Emergency Binder for that specific purpose:
Documents Checklist for your Emergency Binder
Gathering up all of the necessary documents to make an Emergency Binder is probably the most difficult part of the process, so I created a FREE Documents Checklist to help you get started.
I suggest taking a few weeks to go through this checklist, so as not to get overwhelmed. Also, you will probably need extra time to obtain certain documents that you may not already have on hand.
Just use the form below to sign up for my FREE Email Newsletter (don’t worry, I’ll never SPAM you or sell your email address – that’s not cool!), and you’ll get access to the FREE Documents Checklist and my entire FREEBIES library as a gift!
Supplies to Make an Emergency Binder
The supplies that you need will depend on what type of “binder” system that you choose to create.
If you use my “What If?” Emergency Binder, then I recommend the following:
A sturdy 2″ or larger 3 ring binder (affiliate)- A 2″ thick binder will allow space to include copies of multiple insurance policies, extra notes, etc.
Dividers (affiliate) to easily divide all of the information into sections
Page protectors (affiliate)- You can use page protectors for each page of your printable Emergency Binder, and multi-page documents like insurance policies may fit into one page protector to keep them nice and neat
Zippered pockets (affiliate) to fit in the binder – Helpful for including smaller items like health insurance cards, receipts for valuables, safety deposit box keys, USB drives, small photos, etc. in your Emergency Binder
Where to Store Your Family Emergency Binder
Your finished Emergency Binder will include a TON of personal and sensitive information, so it’s important to store it in a safe place.
To protect your binder, it is best to store it in a home safe or document storage box that is fireproof and waterproof OR a bank security deposit box.
If setting up a USB device with all emergency preparedness documents, you can give the USB to a trusted family member, or keep it in a home safe or bank security deposit box.
*Note – If you keep your Emergency Binder somewhere that requires a key or a security code, be sure to give those details to a spouse AND another trusted family member. That way, loved ones can access your information in the event of an emergency.
Here are some highly-rated options for fireproof safes for document storage (affiliate).
I hope that I’ve inspired you to create your own family Emergency Binder to take a little bit of the stress out of whatever emergency situations life throws at you.
I know… the death of your spouse is NOT a pleasant thing to think about, but you have no idea when or how it will happen. I never would have thought that as a healthy-as-a-horse 27 year old woman, I would be fighting for life after having heart failure and going into septic shock.
But, it taught me the importance of easing the burden for loved ones left behind.
Be sure that you take care of your family, too, by setting up your own Emergency Binder… sooner rather than later.