An end of life planning notebook is one of those things that everybody should do but not many people actually DO IT!

Blue notebook with tabs with cover title 10 reasons to create an end of life planning notebook

Several years ago I created a When I Die Notebook for my mom. It came about because of a thought I had one day.

Back when I was a caregiver for my mom, I got to thinking, would my brothers know what’s going on in Mom’s life if something happened to me that put me in the hospital for an extended period of time or worse yet, if I died before Mom? 

The thing is, this type of situation could happen to anybody. A spouse can suddenly pass away. A parent. A married son or daughter. If granny falls inside her house and the house is locked, would you be able to get into her house for assistance?

Have YOU given any thought to creating a When I Die notebook?

That terrible thought I had that day prompted me to create a When I Die Notebook for Mom.

What is a when I die notebook

So what is a When I Die Notebook? In simple terms – it’s a notebook full of your life information.

It’s also known as a Legacy Binder, Personal Document Organizer, Important Document Organizer, Family Document Organizer, When I Die Organizer, Death Planner Organizer, and End of Life Planning Notebook to name a few.

You get the idea?

What you put into it is up to you. It can be as detailed and thorough as you want or minimalistic.

Keep reading for ideas.

Reasons to have a notebook

Having an In Case I Die binder, Legacy Binder or whatever term you want to use, can provide several benefits for you and your loved ones. Here are some reasons why it is considered a good practice:

  1. It organizes your household information

  2. It organizes the financial side of you

  3. It’s easily grabbed and taken with you

  4. It serves as a record of your medical information

  5. It’s easily portable

  6. Peace of mind for you (and for your loved ones)

  7. Serves as a record of your life

  8. It organizes your affairs (for you and for those left behind)

  9. Reduces stress on your loved ones left behind

  10. Ensures that your wishes are respected and followed

Blue notebook with colored tabs sitting on a desktop with text overlay of why you should create an end of life planning notebook

What to include in a when I die notebook

You can include whatever you want in this notebook. Below are some suggestions.

Personal Information

Begin with your loved one’s full legal name, birth date, birth place, the birth certificate, social security number, and any other identification details necessary for legal and administrative purposes

You might also want to include marriage information such as a marriage license as well as divorce decrees. 

Contact Information

Include the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of important contacts such as primary care physicians, specialists, lawyers, financial advisors, and trusted family members.

You might consider keeping the family contact information in the Personal section and then the important contacts in its own section.

Medical History

Document your loved one’s medical conditions and any allergies. Note any significant surgeries, past treatments, or hospitalizations.

You may want to include an up-to-date sheet that lists current medications and dosages, etc. Often times, the doctors office will want an updated copy at each visit. 

Advance Directives

Include copies of any advance directives, living wills, or power of attorney documents, ensuring they are up to date and legally binding.

Insurance Information

Compile details about health insurance policies, long-term care coverage, life insurance policies, Medicare or Medicaid, and any other relevant insurance plans.

You could also include Auto Insurance information in this section as well as Homeowner’s Insurance information. Or you could choose to put those in a separate section of their own.

Financial Accounts

List bank account details, investment portfolios, and other financial accounts. Include usernames, passwords, and any other specific instructions or limitations.

Monthly Expenses

Provide a breakdown of regular expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utility bills, insurance premiums, and subscription services.

You will want to indicate how these bills are paid each month, whether it’s bill pay, auto pay, check written or paid in person. You will want to include websites, usernames, passwords and you might include what time of the month the payments are due or usually paid. 

Legal Documents

Include copies of legal documents like wills, trusts, deeds, and any other relevant paperwork related to your loved one’s estate.

Funeral and Burial Preferences

Note any specific wishes your loved one has regarding funeral arrangements, burial or cremation, preferred funeral homes, and relevant contact details.

As morbid as this sounds, my mom worked on writing out her obituary because she had certain things she wanted mentioned. So include any obituary notes in this section. It would also be good to put in a recent photograph of your loved one to include with the obituary. That will save time searching for one when you really need it.

Other items for this section would include any funeral prepayments that have been arranged. I put the cemetery deed in this section as well.

Social Security and Pension Information

List Social Security numbers, pension details, and any other retirement benefits your loved one may have.

Since you’re not supposed to carry your SS card with you I put Mom’s in one of those clear plastic sleeves.

passport social security card for when I die notebook

Digital Assets

Document usernames, passwords, and instructions for accessing online accounts, including email, social media, and online banking.

Personal Belongings and Heirlooms

Identify treasured possessions, family heirlooms, and sentimental items that your loved one would like to pass on to specific individuals.

Caregiver Details

Provide information about current caregivers, their contact details, schedules, and responsibilities. Include any agencies or organizations involved in providing care.

Daily Routine

Outline your loved one’s typical daily routine, including meal schedules, medication timings, preferred activities, and any specific care instructions. 

Emergency Contacts

List emergency contact information for local hospitals, fire and police departments, poison control centers, and other relevant agencies.

Professional Services

Include details of professionals your loved one interacts with, such as therapists, counselors, home health aides, or hospice providers.

Home Maintenance

Record information about home maintenance, including utility providers, repair services, and contact details for contractors or property managers. 

This is where you might want to include warranties, information on when the roof was replaced, how old are the appliances, when was the last time the furnace was serviced, etc.

Pet Care

If your loved one has pets, provide information about their care routine, feeding instructions, veterinary contacts, and emergency pet care options.

Safety Measures

Note any safety concerns or precautions related to your loved one’s health condtion, such as fall risks or potential hazards in the home.

If there is a signaling service set up, such as Life Alert, then you would want to make a note of that information and contact numbers as well.

Support Networks

Include details about support groups, community resources, and dementia-specific organizations that can assist future caregivers. 

A support network could also be a group of old friends. If you haven’t put their names and phone numbers anywhere else, here would be a good place.

Respite Care Options

List respite care providers or organizations that can offer temporary relief for caregivers. alllowing them time for self-care or vacations.

file folders on table with documents

Preferences and Hobbies

Highlight your loved one’s favorite activities. What did they like to do in their spare time?

Communication Strategies

Provide insights into effective communication techniques for your loved one, including any specific cues or gestures that help facilitate understanding.

Medication Administration

If you didn’t include the medication in an earlier section you could do it here. Include detailed instructions on how to administer medications, any specific dosage adjustments or restrictions, and potential side effects to watch out for.

Important Dates and Annivesaries

Make note of significant dates and anniversaries that hold emotional significance for your loved one. This information can help future caregivers create a supportive and comforting environment.

Preferred Healthcare Facilities

List preferred hospitals, clinics, or specialists your loved one has had positive experiences with, making it easier for future caregivers to continue their care.

Cultural or Religious Beliefs

Document any cultural or religious practices, traditions, or preferences that are important to your loved one, ensuring their values and beliefs are respected.

Memory Triggers

Identify specific triggers or reminders that can help evoke memories or bring comfort to your loved one, such as favorite songs, scents, or familiar objects.

End-of-Life Preferences

Discuss your loved one’s preferences regarding end-of-life care, including their wishes for hospice care, pain management, and any spiritual or emotional support they desire.

Some of this might already have been noted in the Advance Directives section.

Personal Stories and Memories

Encourage your loved one to share personal stories, anecdotes, and memories that can provide family members with some family history. It will also provide future caregivers with insights into unique life experiences.

Important Legal Deadlines

Note any upcoming legal deadlines, such as filing tax returns, renewing licenses, or addressing any pending legal matters, to ensure smooth continuity.

Personalized Caregiving Tips

Offer personalized caregiving tips and insights based on your experiences with your loved one, highlighting strategies that have worked well in managing their dementia symptoms.

How to make the notebook

It’s not hard to make one. All you basically need is a huge 3-ring binder, a hole punch and maybe some clear plastic sleeves. The ability to copy documents might help as well.

This is what my mom’s notebook looked like.

Blue 3-ring binder full of Mom's important documents
Mom's 3-ring binder open showing a document in a clear plastic sheet protector

I used the clear plastic sleeves for Mom’s notebook. In the photo on the right, I included the information on Mom’s heart stent just in case we ever needed to tell someone about that.

Mostly, setting up a notebook like this just takes time. Time collecting items, writing, copying and then organizing in the notebook. However, it’s manageable and could be done over several weekends or months.

If you’d like an easier way to create this notebook, I have a solution for you. I have a document created already. It’s available in my Etsy store by clicking on the box below. All you have to do is print it out and fill in the blanks.

Creating something like this also forces you to start thinking about your life and the end of your life. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want people to remember about you?

When I die notebook options

If you don’t want to use a 3-ring binder, there are options. You could put information in file folders, or one large expandable file folder, or 1 of those file folder carrying case. You could stuff everything into a box but then you’d waste time looking for something so I wouldn’t recommend that! 

Where to keep the notebook

File things away, let someone know where it is and/or how to access it. I have 3 older brothers, all of whom live out of town. I told each one about the notebook and where it was located.

Be cautious about keeping this notebook in a safe deposit box. When the time comes and you need this in a hurry, a safe deposit box in a bank is not readily accessible. 

You do, however, want to keep some documents in a secure place. Just make a note in the binder of where these items are located.

Update as needed

Lastly, if there are changes in wills, funeral plans, etc. then be sure to update the pages.

A good suggestion is to put a calendar reminder on your phone either bi-monthly, quarterly or 2x a year to look over the notebook to see if there are any changes to be made and to do so at that time.

Overall, creating an End of Life Planning Notebook, a Legacy Binder, a When I Die notebook or whatever your term is for it can provide peace of mind and clarity for both you and your loved ones. It can ensure that your end-of-life wishes are respected and followed, and can help reduce stress and uncertainty during a difficult time.