Your Documents: A Checklist
This page lists the documents you, your family, your executor, or your personal representative will need in an emergency, should it be one as good as a Netflix deal or as bad as your agent forgetting to tell you about a Netflix deal. Chances are you won’t need all of them, but we thought it best to err on the side of completeness.
The best collection will be determined by your unique situation. Your personal and professional history, desires and obligations, even your state of residence—it all plays a role.
Where to Keep Your Legacy Kit
There is no one best way to assemble and maintain your Legacy Kit. You can do so digitally as a file in your computer, or through a Web-based application like Everplans®. Or keep it as a hard copy. Perhaps a combination is the best way. An electronic copy gives you a protected back-up, which can be good when you’re traveling or experiencing a worst-case scenario. Written copies, however, are accepted in all states and most countries. They’re also portable and physical, making them easier to present on demand in emergencies.
Some people will keep them in a portable kit, while others will choose to store the items in a fireproof safe. If you choose that last option, however, be sure to store the key or combination in a safe place. Ditto for any copies.
There is only one absolute: Whatever your kit looks like or however you choose to store it, make sure it’s easy for you and your loved ones to find, reach, and use. Draw or write a map to it. Seriously. Read Ms. Rusch’s account of Truman Capote’s lost manuscript to find out why.
All of these documents should be included as applicable to your personal situation. Here is an index of the sections covered:
Commercial Real Estate
▢ Mortgages, including notice of final payment.
▢ Major service contracts, especially those not necessarily accounted for in the Passwords document such as lawn care, pest control, plumbing, HVAC, etc.
▢ Condo and/or co-op agreements.
This may constitute a list, a master password to an online password manager, and/or information on biometric identifiers. Password aggregators can be found online. For those who prefer not to trust their passwords to the Cloud, a sample Microsoft Word table can be found here.
Since just about everything in life needs a password, those who maintain their passwords manually may find it helpful to group the passwords by category, such as Health, Financial, Personal Websites, Professional Websites, Subscriptions, et cetera. Having an up-to-date, annotated password list may reduce the need for hard copy documentation and serve as a map to other resources.
You should have at least two emergency contacts, preferably including one who does not live with you to cover situations in which everyone in the household is traveling together. The emergency contacts list in your kit should include their legal names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses. You may also find it useful to list a preferred social media account as a last resort method of contact. Lastly, you and your emergency contacts should share a keyword or phrase that can be used as a way of preventing fraud and identity theft.
▢ Financial advisor and contact information.
▢ Preferred banking representative and contact information.
▢ Tax preparer and contact information.
▢ Legal advisor and contact information.
▢ Loan officer and contact information.
▢ Employment contract.
▢ Contracted work agreements.
▢ Employer contracts for any employees and/or contractors (personal assistants, providers, etc.).
▢ Survivor benefits.
▢ Social security.
▢ Banks and financial institutions.
▢ Safe deposit boxes.
▢ Investment accounts (current information may be held by financial advisor).
▢ Beneficiary(ies) of other trusts/estates.
▢ Retirement accounts (current information may be held by financial advisor).
▢ Settlement payments (current information may be held by legal advisor).
▢ Outstanding loans/debts (current information may be held by loan officer).
▢ Student loans.
▢ Other income sources.
▢ Active credit or debit cards.
▢ Passbooks, bankbooks, and checkbooks.
▢ Alimony payments (list whether asset or liability, and list name/contact info).
Note: This list also applies to timeshares, because their maintenance and other fees do not end with the death of the owner.
▢ Mortgages, including notice of final payment.
▢ Major service contracts, especially those not necessarily accounted for in the passwords document such as lawn care, pest control, plumbing, HVAC, etc.
▢ Condo agreements.
▢ Renters agreements.
▢ Real estate tax statements, due dates, and payment information.
▢ Insurance agent and contact information.
▢ Life insurance policies.
▢ Health insurance policies.
▢ Homeowners/renters/rental property policies.
▢ Vehicle policies.
▢ Personal liability policies.
▢ Professional liability policies.
▢ Other liability policies.
▢ Life insurance policies.
▢ Trademark documentation.
▢ Copyright documentation.
▢ Library of Congress documentation.
▢ Paperwork on any ongoing or resolved legal actions.
▢ Appraisals of art, jewelry, heirlooms, etc.
Letters of Instruction
Read our separate section for more information on what letters of instruction comprise.
▢ Names and contact information of primary care physicians and specialists.
▢ Name and contact information of court-appointed guardian.
▢ Names and contact information of persons who have medical or psychological power of attorney.
▢ List of medications.
▢ List of allergies.
▢ Copies of insurance cards.
▢ “Do Not Resuscitate” order.
Ongoing Business Activity
▢ Automated marketing, sales, and/or scheduled social media posts.
▢ Scheduled appearances or workshop participation.
▢ Planned online events such as blog tours, virtual readings, etc.
▢ Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) actions and other piracy monitoring.
▢ Service contracts.
▢ Planned business/personal trips, flight, travel, and hotel reservations.
▢ Management of any podcasts, vidcasts, or other digital content that is created, posted, or scheduled to be posted.
▢ Corporation name, incorporated location (usually a state), and any “also trading as” aliases.
▢ Corporation type, such as S, LLC, etc.
▢ Title(s), such as CEO, director, partner, etc.
▢ Percent ownership and/or number of shares owned.
▢ Incorporation documents.
▢ Name and contact information of corporate lawyer.
▢ Name and contact information of corporate accountant.
▢ Names and contact information of other co-owners or partners.
▢ Assets such as real estate, vehicles if claimed for business, non-partner employees, etc.
▢ Emergency contacts with contact information.
▢ Birth certificate.
▢ Legally significant religious documents (baptismal records, ketubot, marriage contracts, ordination records, annulment records, etc.).
▢ Social security card.
▢ School transcripts.
▢ Marriage license.
▢ Separation agreement(s).
▢ Divorce decree(s).
▢ Other changes in legal status.
▢ Green card.
▢ Name change.
▢ Spousal death certificates.
▢ Pre-written obituaries and/or memorial announcements.
▢ Car/Truck/Motorcycle titles and/or deeds.
▢ Car/Truck/Motorcycle vehicle identification numbers (VINs).
▢ Boat titles and/or deeds.
▢ Boat VINs.
▢ RV/Camper/Trailer titles and/or deeds.
▢ Preferred service providers with contact information.
▢ Purchase agreements, including payment schedule and/or final settlement.
▢ Loans, including payment schedule and/or final settlement.
▢ Personal property tax statements, due dates, and payment information.
▢ High value artwork, furniture, and/or personal items in excess of $5000 per item.
▢ Breeding and/or adoption records.
▢ Medical records.
▢ Care instructions.
▢ Literary executor and contact information.
▢ Service providers (artists, web hosting, marketing/advertising, etc.).
▢ Personal assistant and contact information.
▢ Literary agent and contact information.
▢ Map and/or location finder for published and unpublished work, and research notes. This can be as simple as “Look in the ‘Fiction’ folder on my laptop. My preferred versions are the ones with the latest date” or as complex as necessary.
▢ Inventory of published and unpublished work. Sample inventories can be found here.
▢ List of writing websites and passwords (may be folded into the Password list).
▢ Contracts for published material.
▢ Contracts for publication services (e.g., editing, artwork, publication design, cover design, distribution). This should primarily be independently published work.
▢ Contracts for professional support (e.g., agent, PAs, public relations/marketing firms).
▢ Rights reversions.
▢ Contracts for in-process or completed work allowing for future deliverables or revisions.
▢ Photographs of permission letters or emails for publicity photos and any other images published in your works for which you do not own the copyright.
▢ Stock photo information and license agreements, which primarily applies to stock photos incorporated into cover art for independently contracted covers.
▢ Active Patreon or other crowdfunding sources and responsibilities.