The Family Notebook: Organizing Your Vital Records
- Marcia Washburn Homeschool Enrichment
- 2011 23 Aug
A few years ago, our oldest son called to ask for his original driver’s license number. Despite the fact that he had lived in Texas for three years and North Carolina for two prior to moving to Florida, the clerk insisted on knowing his Colorado number. Although I had never dreamed he would need it, I was able to provide it—and go up several points in his estimation—thanks to the personal profiles I keep for each family member.
Our loved ones sometimes need some little piece of vital information, often on short notice, and guess who they come to? The same person they ask to find everything else (as they race out the door), from lost glasses to missing piano music. Like it or not, moms are the keepers of personal information too.
Summer is a great time to pull together your vital records and get organized. Of course, you will file your original documents in a secure location, such as a home safe or a safety deposit box at your bank, but you will also need convenient access to a summary for day-to-day use.
My mother assembled a three-ring binder to corral this information. Not only was it helpful when she needed to look up a phone or account number, it was vital after she graduated to heaven and I was settling her affairs.
Use a loose-leaf binder to make your family notebook. Be sure your adult children or trusted adult family members know where to find it in case you are not able to tell them. You might place it with photo albums on a shelf where it would be accessible in an emergency, yet not obvious to a thief. Make a password-protected copy for your computer too.
Here are some ideas to get you started on your own family notebook.
Dedicate a page in your family notebook for each family member for whom you are responsible (this might include your parents as well as your children). Keep it up-to-date even after your children move out of your home.
Include the following data for each person: full name; address (if not the same as yours); phone number(s); e-mail address(es); date of birth; Social Security, medical insurance, and Medicare numbers; driver’s license number; make/model/year/license plate of car; and any state license numbers (hunter education, job-related licenses, etc.).
Include a medical section to record inoculations, serious illnesses, surgeries, allergies, current medications, and other pertinent data. Carry a card noting current medications for each family member with you; it could prove vital in an emergency.
Ten years ago, I almost died from a severe E. coli infection. I was very grateful that, thanks to Christ’s provision, I was spiritually ready to die—even though I had anticipated living on this planet a few more decades. But our paperwork wasn’t in order: my husband would have had a difficult time sorting out our financial papers. They were scattered between filing drawers, to-be-filed boxes, and our safe-deposit box. After recovering, I knew I needed to get organized—if not for my convenience, then for my husband and our sons.
Your family notebook should include the name, account number, phone number, and mailing address for each of your accounts, including checking and savings accounts, money market accounts, investment accounts, and life insurance policies. Each one goes on a separate page so you can easily update it as necessary—companies merge and addresses change over the years.
Include this information for your creditors, also. Each one gets its own page: credit cards, home mortgage, car loans, student loans, and any others. (Hopefully, you will be debt-free long before your family needs to access this notebook.1) When a loan is paid off, write “Paid in Full” in red ink across that loan’s page—it will be a very satisfying task!
To clarify, the family notebook is not where you keep a record of your payments or deposits. Its purpose is to list all of your accounts in one place for you or your family in case of emergency.
Also include a “where-to-find-it” page. List the combination to your safe or where you keep the safe-deposit keys. Record where the original policies, deeds, and titles can be found. List passwords for online accounts.
Many young couples do not have wills. This means they are choosing, by default, to allow state officials to make decisions about the disposal of their estate, and more importantly, the care of any minor children. These are not pleasant decisions to discuss, but part of being a parent is protecting your children. Leaving them in the hands of the state is not a wise or loving thing to do. Seek an attorney who specializes in family law to help you draw up a last will and testament.
Many people today do not realize that in the past, it was common for people to write their testimony of Christian faith and perhaps some hopes or instructions for their survivors. This was called the testament. Write this and include it with your will so the generations who follow you will know who you were and that you prayed for them before they were born. Do not miss this wonderful opportunity to leave a written witness for the future, as many of our founding fathers did, as well as for the present when your last will and testament are read.
Make a section in your family notebook for your end-of-life information. Record where the original copy of your will is located and the name and phone number of the attorney who drew it up for you. Include a copy of your will (not the original) in your family notebook.
Include, in this section, copies of any other documents you and your attorney draw up. These may include a medical power of attorney and a durable power of attorney. The former allows the designated person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them for yourself (select a backup person in case your spouse is unable to serve). The latter functions in the same way for your financial affairs; if one of you dies or is incapacitated, the surviving spouse would have access to accounts to continue to pay bills without waiting for the will to be probated.
We were grateful that my mother recorded her preferences regarding her memorial service in this section of her family notebook—a full 30 years before it was needed. She listed favorite music, pallbearers, and other details that made decisions so much easier during an emotional time. Knowing that we did not know all of her friends’ and some distant relatives’ names, she made a list of people to contact along with their phone numbers. With today’s technology, it would be helpful to include your passwords for social networking sites and e-mail addresses so those friends could be notified as well.
Use these warm summer days when the schoolbooks aren’t calling to make a family notebook. You will enjoy being able to find vital information in an instant, and you will gain peace of mind knowing that your affairs are in order, just in case God calls you home sooner than you expect.
©2011 by Marcia K. Washburn. Her book, Activity Days for Homeschool Groups and Families, has just been revised and updated. You can visit her website at www.marciawashburn.com for more articles, books, and information about inviting her to speak to your group, as well as to sign up for her free newsletter.
1To request a free copy of Marcia’s article, Building a Financially Free Home, write to [email protected]