The future is suddenly less certain. Just this morning, I read about some front-line health care workers who are amending their wills to provide for backup guardians to their backup guardians. The profound sense of vulnerability many of us feel because of the COVID-19 pandemic is also inspiring some to consider the ultimate “what if.”

Thirty-nine years ago, my wife and I brought home our first-born. I remember looking down on him as he slept peacefully in his cradle and feeling overcome by a cluster of emotions—awe, excitement, gratitude and…apprehension. The responsibility suddenly weighing on me because of this beautiful little guy was, in that moment, overwhelming. I needed a plan.

Like many two-person households then and probably to a large extent today, one half of the couple is the designated billpayer. That was me. And as the frequently traveling, corporate-ladder-climbing half in an era when the word online conjured up an image of laundry drying in the sun, I realized that should something happen to me, my wife wouldn’t know what to do first.

Sure, she and I routinely discussed our financial standing—right down to the scratchpad of our monthly his-and-her credit card charges. But what if I were to suddenly become incapacitated, or worse? Given her unfamiliarity with a process that was second nature to me, how would she know what to do about paying the mortgage, our auto loan, the utility bills and insurance premiums? How would she go about reconciling the monthly bank statements or, even, identifying our banking and investment accounts?

And then I remembered how my wife’s father had taped an envelope to the back of a random piece of furniture pushed up against the paneled wall in their rec room. In it was the combination to a safe—a metal monstrosity that he wedged into the crawlspace under the house he built decades before, and into which he placed their most important papers and valuable possessions.

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That envelope was, in effect, a just in case something happens to us note. My memory of the time he revealed it to us inspired me to create one of my own.

No, I didn’t drag a safe into a hole under our house. But I did have important information that my wife would need. Those days were simpler: The Internet didn’t surface until a couple of years later, hence there were no email addresses to track, online banking sites to access and passwords to remember. Even my note from the great beyond was handwritten because word processors were not commonplace at home.

Thirty-nine years later, I still compose my note, although the envelope has become much thicker with highly confidential information and instructions.

The first section of the first document lists the usernames and passwords for our technology: cell phones, tablets, laptops, remote access thermostats and alarms.

The second section contains login names that are coded for the various site categories including financial (banks and investment firms), commerce (utilities, insurance and accounting portals, and travel, subscriptions and shopping sites), health care (patient portals), correspondence (email, website management and cloud storage) and social (networking and music), along with the complex passwords I devised for each, procedures for dual-factor notification and answers to security questions.

Document number two is a comprehensive list of service providers whose contact information can be found in the now-unlocked technology, as well as the locations of checkbooks, copies of periodic bills and tax returns, life, property, casualty and long-term care insurance policies, auto titles, property deeds, the sundry valuables we keep in the house and, of course, our wills.

Every January, I fill in a blank template of these documents from scratch—the information is too confidential to trust to hard drives and cloud accounts, which have proven to not be hackproof—and put it in an envelope that I store in a bank safe deposit box to which all my immediate family have authorized access.

A daunting task all this? Perhaps. At first. But it’s also the least that I can do for those I love because, well, because.

In the Media

Mitchell D. Weiss