Do This Now: How to Create a Simple In-Case-of-Emergency File and Plan

This simple task could help you in the long run.

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Understand the goal

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Imagine a family member falls ill and is unable to pay her bills, contact her lawyer, or locate her social security card. You’re called on to step in. Wouldn’t it be helpful if all of these documents, contacts, and instructions were rounded up in one place? That’s the goal of an ICE file and plan. “When life throws you a curve, being organized is important,” says Nancy Doyle, CFA, author of the forthcoming book, Manage Your Financial Life. “Our financial lives are very complex and with privacy laws the way they are it can be very difficult to access a loved one’s email and accounts if there’s an emergency.”

Round up your paperwork

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Your ICE file is a physical binder or box containing all of your important documents. You’ll want to include birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, military records, social security cards, and any other official record that might be relevant in your absence. Essential legal documents should also be included: Your will, power of attorney, health care directive, mortgage, and the titles for your home and car.

Copy your IDs

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Make photocopies of items like your passport, credit cards, and driver’s license and add them to the file.

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Store your file safely

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Now that you’ve created your file, you’ll want to keep it someplace safe. Doyle says there are two options here: a fireproof box you keep in your home or a safety deposit box at the bank. This is what you might not have known about home safety.

Tell someone where the file is located

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Create a list of key people, say your spouse or partner, children, the executor of your estate, and the person who holds your power of attorney, and tell them where your ICE file is located and how to access it. If a key is required, make copies. (Related: This is how to protect an older loved one from a money scam.)

Formulate a plan

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Now that you’ve created a file of important documents, it’s time to create a plan that explains how everything works. Again, it's crucial that this plan exists before an emergency happens. (Related: These are the things your tax planner won't tell you.)

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Create an emergency contact list

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Begin by listing the names and phone numbers for your banker, lawyer, investment adviser, insurance agent, and accountant. Doyle recommends using an Excel spreadsheet for this step. That way, you can neatly organize the person’s name, role, contact information, and any notes you might have.

Create a list of accounts

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Develop a list of your bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and investments, along with details on where they are located, the account number, and notes.

Leave instructions for bill payments

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Make a list of bills that are on automatic pay, and which accounts they are attached to. This important step will make ensure your key people can handle your paperwork in your absence. This is how to improve your credit score.

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Share your email password with a trusted family member

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Especially in chaotic times of emergency, important information could come in through email. “Personally I use a password management system and give the master password to a key person,” says Doyle.

Stay up to date

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Doyle recommends doing a financial spring-cleaning once a year. During this time you will organize your bank accounts, investments, loans, and other paperwork. You should also take a minute to review your ICE file and plan, and make sure everything is up to date.

Walk someone through your plan

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Gather your key people and review your plan annually. That way, those involved have a periodic reminder of the file’s location and instructions, and can help you fill in any information they notice might be missing.


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