How to Easily Build the Ultimate Family Emergency Binder
Our neighbors were recently preparing to go on an anniversary cruise when they realized their printer wasn’t working. She texted me to see if I could print some paperwork for them to put in their in case of an emergency binder for their parents, who were watching their kids.
Of course, I obliged. And being the nosy nebby I am, I glanced at the paperwork before walking over to deliver it.
It was a power of attorney for consent to medical care for a minor.
First off – I didn’t even know that was a thing, until I asked her more about it. And then I panicked, since our kids were visiting with grandma right then, and I didn’t even think to send along their medical cards, much less a power of attorney paper. (I know, I’m the worst parent, eh?)
Secondly, I realized that we didn’t have an emergency binder pulled together, at all. What in the world would my husband do if something happened to me? I’m responsible for paying all of our bills and keeping track of our finances. He’d have no clue where to start or where some of our account information was.
Even worse was realizing that our parents would be even more clueless as to what to do with our accounts and finances if something happened to both of us. How could they possibly care for our kids and dig through the mess that I call a workspace?
Why We Needed an Emergency Binder
One of my goals this year was to review all of our accounts – from insurance coverage to investments – and make adjustments as needed. And since we’re touching essentially everything, I realized it’s a good idea, and the best time possible, to create an in case of emergency binder.
Turning 40 has made me stop and think about a lot of things, some of which I do not like to dwell on. I realize though that hitting middle age is a blessing – some people don’t get to make it this far.
At the same time, it’s important to accept that my husband and I might not always be here for our kids, even though I hate to think about it.
This is where an in case of emergency binder comes in. By pulling together all of our important information, we’re able to rest easy knowing that anything that my husband, our parents, or our kids might need to know is at their fingertips. From passwords to account information, it’s all in these two ultimate binders.
What is an Emergency Binder?
An emergency binder, or legacy binder, is where all of our important family documents and sensitive information are stored in a safe place. It can include financial account information, passwords, social media account info, burial requests, and even letters to your kids, to name a few items.
Building an emergency documents binder ensures that if an accident or death were to happen, anything family members might need to know is right there. The last thing they should be doing is digging for important things in old file cabinets that haven’t been cleaned out in years when they’re worried and grieving.
The best part is, emergency binders can be used for more than emergencies:
- We can pull contact information pages out when we hire a babysitter to watch the kids
- We can use it to give Grandma power of attorney to make medical decisions on our behalf while we’re out of town
- It’ll be easier to apply for financial things like loans or open new financial accounts since everything is in one place
- We can use it as a snapshot to review our insurance coverage and investment accounts yearly
- We can quickly grab it and go if there’s ever a natural disaster or in the event of an emergency
- We have all of our information pulled together in one spot for easy access if we ever need to make insurance claims
- I’ll always have our important papers instantly pulled together when it’s time to renew our licenses at the DMV 😉
Why an Emergency Binder Makes Financial Sense
Thinking about us not being there for our daughters was difficult – but it’s also to us to leave behind organized documents. Without those, they could miss out on all of the hard work and progress we’ve made financially. If we can’t be there to take care of them, it’s important that they can live comfortably financially.
Can you imagine your kids not getting to use money you set aside because they didn’t know it existed?
We have worked too damned hard paying off debt, saving, and investing to let our money go to waste, and for such a silly reason no less.
Organizing your financial paperwork is just as important as paying off your debt or investing. Without it, you’re letting money slip through your family’s fingers should anything happen.
How to Create an In Case of Emergency Binder for Your Documents
Now that I realized we needed an emergency binder ASAP, I began to create an important documents checklist, including phone numbers. However, I quickly realized we had no clue as to what information our family might need outside of an account number and password in an emergency situation.
Luckily, a fellow blogger named Chelsea Brennan from Mama Fish Saves/Mamas Talk Money presented a solution: a printable OR digital emergency binder PDF.
Chelsea’s in case of emergency binder is so thorough that I could have never hoped to think of half of the content on my own with an emergency documents checklist.
She not only covers the financial aspect of documentation, but the personal and emotional side as well. Anything your spouse, parents or kids might need to know, there’s a page for it. From the power of attorney for medical consent for a minor to a place to pull together birth certificates, this emergency binder has a spot for everything.
Last year we chose to print our binder, place each page in sheet protectors, and divide it into two 3 ring binders. Each page has been put into a plastic sleeve, and any additional documents are in plastic sleeves as well.
Following the directions on the emergency binder PDF, we decided to split our binder into two sections. One we keep on a shelf in my office, the other in our fireproof safe.
The part that is in our fireproof safe has the important original documentation we need to keep locked and safe, such as wills, legal documents, birth certificates, marriage certificates, and more.
It truly has given me peace of mind knowing that everything is safe in one spot, and we don’t have to search to find those important documents every time we need to head to the DMV or register for something. Great idea, right?
What should be in an Emergency Binder?
Chelsea’s emergency binder is broken into two sections: the Basic Family Info piece, and the Need to Know piece. She covers what to put in your family emergency binder in an easy and very organized way to help you avoid being overwhelmed.
Each of these sections has sub-sections, covering which documents you should have in an emergency (and just in general). The binder is a whopping 92 pages (including an emergency binder cover) and includes sections on:
- Household information
- Key Personal Documents (marriage license, social security cards, etc.)
- Medical Information (including advanced directives)
- Insurance Information and Policies (Health insurance, auto insurance, umbrella policy, life insurance policies, etc.)
- Basic Financial Information (Properties, bills, cash accounts, credit cards, debt, cell phones)
- Employer Information
- Social Media/Website Logins
- Investment Information (Bank account, strategy, what to do with life insurance, real estate, etc)
- Military Veteran benefit and obituary information
- Burial/Memorial Preferences
- Personal notes
- & More!
I appreciate that this emergency binder printable takes so many aspects into account and has created a spot for them. It even includes a power of attorney for consent to medical care for a minor form. Now I have no excuse for not having that filled out and sent along with my kids to grandma’s house.
Why It’s Not Just Documentation
Chelsea’s emergency binder PDF covers so many aspects of those vital documents your family needs. But it also directs your family with future decision making.
One example is a page on how you suggest any life insurance money is spent. When we purchased ours, we bought enough to cover our mortgage, the girls’ college educations, and some of our yearly income.
Obviously our parents or kids aren’t going to know what our intentions were without having a discussed it. Having this paper included helps us to convey our wishes for our children’s care.
Even though my husband and I are not veterans, my father is. It’s comforting to know I have a go-to resource to know what benefits he can receive and what to do to honor him when he passes.
Another example is the letters section. Not only can you write letters to your spouse and kids for them to remember you by, but there’s an additional section where you answer questions about yourself. It includes fun, interesting things I want my kids and grandkids to know about me, like my favorite memory of them as a baby, or what I was scared of as a kid.
I loved hearing similar stories about my grandparents and cherish them like jewels. I truly believe that it’s important to have those precious tidbits to help keep a loved one’s memories alive. I know it’s always a calming and wonderful way to cope with loss and hold them near and dear to my heart.
How to Store Your Emergency Binder
We chose to split our own emergency binder into two. The more commonly used piece we kept on a shelf, the other in our safe. Or you can keep it in a safety deposit box, assuming you make family members aware of its existence and where the key can be found.
Another option is to create a digital version. Chelsea’s PDF is editable so that you can type directly into it. She recommends setting up a free account at LastPass to save it there. LastPass is a password management website, so your account is encrypted and will safely store this PDF.
You can choose to use Dropbox or Google drive, but those options are not encrypted. It’s recommended that you choose a very strong password that is not used anywhere else if you choose to store it here.
Why Everyone Needs to Create a Documents Binder
Talking with a spouse about our wishes during a medical emergency or after we pass is such a hard subject to broach. Personally, it’s an even harder discussion to have with our parents.
While it might seem morbid or awkward, the best thing you can do is discuss your wishes with them. If it’s still too difficult, get your binder set up and let them know it exists. It will help ease the conversation, and give everyone peace of mind.
It’s emotional work, and I shed a couple of tears while working on some of the sections (I also just cry very easily, just ask my husband!). However, it’s worth it knowing that’s one less thing that my family has to worry about should anything happen.
I would strongly recommend suggesting that your parents and in-laws create an emergency binder as well, so that you can carry out their wishes exactly as they want you to. This will help relieve some of the burden and stress you and your siblings will encounter when they pass.
A Sense of Relief
While it was emotional to face some of the aspects of the emergency binder PDF, I’m glad that we did. I feel a sense of relief now that I know I’ve done what I needed to in order to ensure our kids are well taken care of.
The peace of mind it gives me helps me to let go of some of that fear and anxiety I’ve been having about turning 40 as well. And that alone is worth its weight in gold.
You can buy Chelsea’s in case of emergency template PDF here for $39.
Have you created an emergency binder? Or do you have questions about this one? If so, let me know in the comments.
A forty-ish web designer/developer by day, a budget & financial fanatic by night. I’m a mom, wife, avid reader, and DIY enthusiast who’s tracking our journey to debt freedom. Read More