Is your family prepared for the worst?
I thought I had prepared for the worst. Until it was tested recently, and my preparations failed the test.
So, what do I mean by ‘the worst’? Well, in my case, it’s if something happens to me (God forbid), and my husband, Olivier, has to deal with the situation/aftermath.
I mean, in our marriage, I’m the one who does all the ‘official’ stuff with paperwork, and looks after documents, makes sure everything is up to date and legal. From banking (except his French bank account in France, he looks after that himself, but we have joint accounts in Australia and individual accounts in Russia), to our visa situation in Russia (monitoring visa expiry, registration of the visa with the authorities, etc.), travel arrangements for holidays and many other tasks like these.
Olivier’s excuse to not do any of that is that ‘everything’s in English’ – and English is his second language so it’s not so easy for him to understand legal/banking terms, or to read documents or information on the internet in English. And besides, I love organising things, making sure that it’s all correct and that nothing’s going to cause us any problems.
It reduces my stress levels, because I know that I don’t have to worry if something’s done or not. I know it’s done because I did it myself.
I’m a bit bossy, and this is one way I demonstrate it, to have control. I know it, Olivier knows it – our relationship works perfectly this way, although it may not be true for everyone.
So, what happened?
A couple of years ago, I decided to be a good wife and make a file containing all the information Olivier would need regarding our finances and other info (my passwords to everything online, our banking access codes, how to contact my family in Australia in an emergency, people to notify etc.) if something ‘happened to me’.
Tempting fate or not, I did it and thought it would be useful in a worst case scenario. I reminded him from time to time about the location of this file. He knows where it is and that if I don’t come home one day, everything he needs is in there.
No need to panic.
A wonderful evening
A couple of months ago, I arranged to meet a couple I didn’t know, in the centre of Moscow. I’d met the woman, let’s call her Claire, on an internet forum for expats, and offered her some advice on visiting Moscow and Russia. We decided that we would try and meet while she was here with her husband. Which is very unlike me – I’m asocial and much prefer a life at home away from people. But, Claire seemed nice and I wasn’t doing anything else. Sometimes I push myself to socialise, but it doesn’t come natural to me.
While they were here I had a free evening, so we arranged to meet. We all met, including Olivier, in a city square, and then headed off to a café for something to eat/drink. Olivier was working that evening, until just after 9pm, so he left us just before 7pm to teach his lesson.
I told him that I’d see him at home, that I’d surely be home before him. After all, I was with two people I didn’t know, and two hours would be more than enough to chat with them. Plus, I had a very early lesson the next morning, so there was no way I’d be out late, since I had to get up at 7am.
So, Olivier left and I was left to chat with Claire and her husband. We got along really, really well! There was no alcohol involved, not even a glass of wine, so it was a genuine connection with good, intelligent conversation (in English, which is something I don’t often experience living in Moscow with a French husband!).
We talked and talked and talked. About everything. Actually, I don’t even know exactly what we talked about – our life experiences living in other countries, mostly.
And at one point we were talking about technology, notably smartphones, and so I pulled my phone out of my bag to show them my unsmart Nokia. I don’t know what the time was when I did that, but I took a quick look at the screen of my phone and saw that there were no messages.
Then, I made the mistake. I put my phone back in my bag.
I hate phones, all of them. My phone is always on silent – even for message notifications. It vibrates sometimes when I get a message, but not always. And if it’s in my bag, like it always is, I don’t feel the vibration unless the part of my bag where the phone is located is touching my body (eg. if I’m sitting down with my bag on my lap).
Well, I was sitting down, but my bag was not in my lap. It was next to me on seat.
You can guess what happened, I’m sure.
We continued talking, not thinking about the time, having great discussions and getting to know each other.
Until I glanced at Claire’s watch. And the time. It said 10.22pm.
I asked her if that was Moscow time. Yes.
I grabbed my phone from my bag and saw missed calls and SMS messages waiting for me. From Olivier.
I called him. He’d been home for about 30 minutes, and, seeing the flat in darkness, with no news from me, he was worried. Understandably. Especially when I didn’t answer his calls.
I apologised profusely for causing him to worry. Of course, he asked me why I didn’t have my phone on the table where I could see any messages or calls, instead of in my bag. I didn’t have an answer.
Why did I tell him I’d be home before him, and not go home or send him a message at least to say I was still out? I didn’t have an answer.
I didn’t keep track of the time. No excuse.
In my defence, there was a clock on the wall in the café, which I’d looked at a couple of times during the evening, which said it was much earlier. But when I realised how late it actually was, I realised that the clock was completely wrong, and not even working.
Then he told me something that left my blood cold. He’d opened ‘The File’. He was so concerned that something had happened to me, that he felt compelled to go to ‘The File’. He was that worried that something had happened to me.
I couldn’t have been sorrier.
Claire and her husband kindly paid the bill for us all, and we said our goodbyes outside the café (they were leaving Moscow the next morning, so we wouldn’t be meeting a second time). It was such a shame to have to leave each other so abruptly, but I was so angry at myself for making Olivier worry, I needed to get home as soon as I could and apologise in person. I almost ran to the metro station.
I could only imagine how angry I would be if the situation was reversed.
Olivier is a much cooler and kinder person than I am. He wasn’t angry. He didn’t make me feel worse than I already felt. Knowing that I was ok, and not dead somewhere, or kidnapped by my new ‘friends’, he had no need to be worried anymore.
You may think that Olivier’s a bit strict with me. Not at all. It’s just that it’s so out of character for me to go ‘missing’ like that. I’m very organised and practical. I’m not flaky. Never late for anything. I don’t forget things. Never forget my phone at home (well, only once in more than 10 years together). I always check my phone for messages regularly when I’m out. I’m almost regimental in the organisation of my daily life. No surprises!
I apologised as profusely as I could. Several times. I just know I would have given him hell if it had been the other way around.
He’s a great husband.
Now, about ‘The File’.
Olivier told me that he had opened ‘The File’, took a look at the contents, and understood absolutely nothing in it. A bunch of papers, lists of people’s contact details, documents, passwords etc. It had no meaning for him.
I’d never explained anything to him, just put everything in there and told him where it was. And, a lot of the information was outdated and wrong, because I hadn’t been updating it when things changed.
So, another fail on my part.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post. What should we prepare for our partner, for the unthinkable situation that may or may not happen? Or maybe we shouldn’t prepare anything, because it tempts fate.
It’s been a while since the evening with Claire and her husband happened, and I still haven’t addressed the issue of this useless file. I haven’t even opened it. It’s on my ‘to do’ list.
But, what I am going to do right now, is make another list, for you. A list of things we should provide for our partner/family, to help them in an emergency, when they might not be thinking clearly, or when they may even be grieving but have to deal with all kinds of red tape and unexpected situations. Even if we’re not the main ‘organiser’ of things in our relationship, there’s surely something that our partner/family will need to know in case we’re not around anymore.
So, here’s a list for you as a guide. Adapt it to fit your needs. Everyone’s different – married/single/kids/parents/divorced… I think you’ll agree with me, it’s not a bad idea to have this information all in one place. It will make things a lot easier if someone has to take over from you.
What is ‘The File’ and why do you need one
‘The File’ isn’t a will. Neither is it a list of things you want people to do at your funeral. Or what music you want played. It’s not a ‘good bye’ letter either. It’s a practical list to help those still around to continue with the daily business of life, if you’re not there to do it yourself. Not necessarily if you’re dead (God forbid), but imagine being stuck in hospital, unable to advise your partner what he/she should be doing/needs doing. Or, less depressing, you’re on holiday abroad and your kids/parents are looking after your house and there’s an emergency with the water supply or something else. Anything’s possible.
It’s advisable not to keep logins and passwords, pins, and other sensitive information altogether, in case it falls into the wrong hands. I’ll leave it up to you how you manage that – I just keep everything together, it’s the easiest way for me.
In some cases, you should put photocopies of documents in ‘The File’ (keep the originals in a safety deposit box at your bank, or with a lawyer, and note in ‘The File’ where the original is). For some things, instead of putting in copies of paperwork (eg. the electricity bill), you could just make a master spreadsheet on your computer with all the information required, ie. name of company, contact details, other info. You could print the spreadsheet and have only that in ‘The File’, instead of many individual papers. That way you won’t have too much paper sitting in ‘The File’.
Another good idea is to scan the important documents as well as having a paper copy. Keep the digital folder containing all the scans and lists clearly marked on your computer, and make sure your partner/children/parents know about it.
List of contents for ‘The File’
- Phone numbers/contact details immediate family, close friends – your important people
- School/kindergarten address/contact number/name of principal/teacher
- Babysitters name and contact details
- Employer’s name and contact details
- Doctor or medical centre contact details
- Any current medical care/medications/allergies/blood type
- Birth and marriage certificates (divorce certificates)
- Banking details.
- Name, address, contact details
- Account numbers of all accounts
- Online access codes and passwords
- Latest statements
- Details of mortgage documents/loans
- Details of any regular payments coming from your accounts
- Contact person (if you have a relationship manager) and their phone number
- Photocopies of all current bank card, including credit cards – front and back
- Social security number/tax number and contact details for the appropriate departments
- Retirement fund/superannuation/pension details
- Electricity supplier – account number, contact details and online access details, and where the main switch is located
- Water supplier – account number, contact details and online access details and where the main tap is located
- Gas supplier – account number, contact details and online access details and where the main connection is located
- Telephone companies – landline and mobile
- Landlord/rental agency contact details, if you’re a tenant in your house/flat
- Vet contact details and animal medical history
- Car details including registration number and expiry date
- Insurance details – house/contents/health/car/life insurance policies and details of the company/broker
- The person/people who have a spare key to your house/car
- Where your will is located and who the executor is
- Your lawyer’s contact details
- Copy of your driver’s licence
- Copy of your passport/identity card
- Accounts you have with websites/forums/online shopping/social networks – login and passwords (or how to access them if you use a master password programme)
What you should do next
Be sure to sit down with your partner/children/parents and go through it all with them. Otherwise they’ll just open ‘The File’ and it might be just a bunch of documents and information that they won’t be able to clearly understand. This can also give you the opportunity to discuss sensitive things that you might not otherwise make time for, or that you’re avoiding because it’s too hard.
And, one last important thing is to keep it up to date. Schedule an update every 12 months – or more often if things change more frequently – and check everything is current. There’s no point in having ‘The File’ if it’s all out of date and meaningless (like mine was).
And that’s about it. I hope that next time I go MIA, Olivier will be much better equipped to deal with the situation. Or, at least he won’t panic when he realises he doesn’t know how to access the funds we have in the bank account in Australia.
I’m sure there’s more you could add. How have you dealt with this situation? Are you prepared? Or do you prefer not to tempt fate by having everything organised? Let us know in the comments section what you think and if there’s anything you’d add to ‘The File’.