Marines are known for being tough and practical. One does not become Lieutenant Colonel and pilot in the Marines without knowing a thing or two.

Last year I met such a Marine at a charity event. During our short conversation, he inquired about my work. I told him about my passion for impacting lives in various ways through my work as a Financial Advisor.  Little did I know that I was about to be equipped with a valuable tool.  When I have the opportunity to learn a practical life skill from someone with a great deal of experience, I jump at it. Then, I like to pass along the information.

A good teacher must be teachable. I emailed him and below is the content of his reply.
(My additions/edited portions of What If File Essentials are in bold italics)

The “What If” File by LtCol. Mitch Bell:

This isn’t just for the Marine or Soldier going over to the War, it’s for everyone, guy or gal. We all believe that we’ll live forever! I mean it. When you are young, you are bullet proof and as you get older, you just never expect that you will die. Well, I am speaking as a guy who lost his sister while in college, his college roommate fifteen months later, and about a dozen guys in plane crashes over my adult life. With this in mind, I came up with a “What if” file.

The “What if” file is a complete folder for my next of kin on what to do if I get whacked by a drunk driver in the morning on the way to work. This is to ensure that my wife and parents would not have to search through old papers, files, boxes in the closet etc to track down my investments, mortgages, car info, work info, passwords etc. Now mind you, the “what if” file is a VERY important document, and should be placed in your fire proof home safety deposit box or gun safe, or with your folks and/or your wife in a safe, secure place. It would be bad news falling into the wrong hands with all that info in one place.

Here is what I did when I married my beautiful wife. I wrote a letter to her, very personal and with the intent that it would my last words to her. I also told her what needed to be done and in what order.

What If’ File Essentials:

Copies of all bank statements
  • Copies of your investment statements (IRA, 401k, retirement accounts, etc)
  • Account numbers (these are required to cancel credit cards and find out what bills have to be paid)
Copies of all life insurance policies (beneficiary information)
  • All online passwords (Banks and Financial Institutions)
POC’s (point of contact) include correct phone numbers
POC within your state to retrieve death certificate (In order to claim insurance death benefit and notify Social Security)
  • POC (supervisor/partners) at work to notify so they don’t call due to your absence.
  • Passwords for email accounts & social media (Facebook), so that your family can send out an message via your address notifying all your contacts about your death or serious injury. Otherwise your family will have to provide your death certificate to AOL, Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, etc to access your accounts.
  • An envelope with $1,000 in cash to cover immediate and unforeseen needs
  • Instructions for burial
Copy of your current (valid) Will (Trust Documents)
Copies of your Living Will/Advance Directive/and Power of Attorney (if needed)
  • List of items of value in your estate (you don’t want them sold for pennies on a dollar at an estate sale)
  • List 3 primary contacts (friends and/or family) who can notify others of the situation at the behest of your spouse.

This is just a start, a basic road map for you. There are many more things you can add to it. I’m death on Marines who don’t have this set up, and so is my Dad who has an extensive “what if” file. I’ve seen too many cases where a Marine has died, and he didn’t switch over his life insurance from his EX-wife who he hates, and she now has won the lotto with a tax-free check while his present wife gets nothing. That is pure laziness and I despise it.

Just remember that dying is the easy part of life; it’s the loved ones you leave behind that suffer. If you have your life tied together in a “What If” folder, when that unexpected time comes, it will make life so much easier for the ones left behind. If you care about your spouse/kids and folks, take the time today to start putting one of these together, and store it in your home fireproof safety deposit box(but watch out if you use a banks they will close those up tight till the probate of the will if you don’t clean it out fast).

I hope this post helps. Please copy it, and send it to your friends and family. I would be willing to bet you a beer that if polled, only about one out of ten will have anything remotely set up like a “What If” file.
-Semper Fi, Mitch

Do you have a ‘What if’ file? Would you add anything to this list?

Special Thanks to LtCol Mitch Bell for permission to share this material on my blog.