What to Put in Your “When I Die” File: How To Organize Estate Planning Documents

Avoid confusion at the end of life! Put together a "When I Die" file. To help you do that, here is a list of things that should be part of your file.
3 minute read

Nobody wants to think of their end-of-life planning because it can be unsettling. Once you frame it as the last big favour you can do for your family, it becomes easier to deal with it. A ‘When I Die’ file will consist of everything from crucial financial information to essential documents to preferred funeral arrangements. With a little bit of planning, you can significantly reduce the burden on your loved ones.

Most people believe that a will or trust is all they need to leave behind. But without other important information, a will cannot be executed. Your survivors would need to know about your bank accounts, mortgage documents, any remaining payments to be made in your name, etc. Without comprehensive pre-planning, your family may have to spend weeks if not months to get all the documents in order. That too, at a time when they will be at their most vulnerable.

To avoid that, the earlier you put together a When I Die file, the easier it will be for you, and everyone concerned. To help you do that, here is a list of things that should be part of your file.


A list of things for your ‘When I Die’ file

Advance directive: A signed - and notarized if necessary - advanced directive declares what decisions should be taken for your health in case you are incapacitated, and unable to decide for yourself.

Lawyer and accountant’s information: Even your closest family members may not have the contact information of your lawyer and accountant, who will be crucial in executing your will.

Tax documents: Document your tax payments, and keep the receipts of the previous 5 years.

Birth certificate: This is one of the first documents your family will need. It may take a while to locate it, but once you do, keep it in the file.

Will and living trust: A will and living trust, with a certificate of trust, will state your directions for dividing your assets after your death. If you don’t leave one, there could be legal troubles for your family and loved ones.

Durable power of attorney for finance: This is where you choose an individual to take financial decisions on your behalf if you were to be incapacitated.

Life insurance policy: Even those who diligently pay their life insurance premiums may not have told their family about the policy. Make sure that you have all the details of your policy along with the life insurance agent’s name and contact information.

Military service documents: In case you are a veteran, your survivors may have to inform the authorities of your passing.

Bank account & investments: It may take a while but you need to collect all information about your investments, bank accounts, and contact information of managers at those institutions. Ensure that you also include information on any safe-deposit box in your name.

Debtor information: Collate details about your credit cards, loans, and membership dues if any.

Real estate documents and deeds: Compile them to make it easy to execute your will.

Copy of drivers license and SIN: As you get older, you may not keep them with you at all times and therefore your family may not know where they are.

Marriage or divorce certificate: This will make it easy for your children especially if you have married more than once.

Home details: Document where you keep your car keys, gate codes, hide-a-key location, and garage door openers. Also mention where you keep your safes and the combination to access them.

Passwords: Imagine keeping all your documents on a computer that your family can’t access. Keep passwords of your phone, computer, email, and social media accounts, ideally, in an online password manager.

Funeral instructions: Whether you prefer burial or cremation, it’s helpful to keep written instructions along with funeral insurance, and plot documents if any.

Letters to loved ones: While everything else is procedural, the last item on our list is a deeply moving one. This is your opportunity to write what your loved ones mean to you, and how they should deal with your passing, and move on. You could even record yourself talking to them.


A ‘When I Die’ file isn’t something you do once. You should revisit it annually when filing tax returns. You should also make changes if you buy or sell real estate. If you marry and have children, or marry into children, you should update those beneficiaries in the file. Finally, ensure that you keep both physical and digital copies, and send them to your executor.