Do you need a “when I die” file?

How to get your affairs in order to make life easier for those left behind.

No one likes to think about dying but the reality is that death is a fact of life – we are all going to die one day. And when that day comes you don’t want your loved ones to have to worry about having to find all your important documents or trying to work out your banking passwords. So one way you can make things easier for your family is to create a “When I die” or “In case of death” file.

Most of us know we should have a Will – even though it’s estimated that roughly half of Aussies don’t have one – but a “When I die” file is more than that. Think of it as a guidebook for those that you leave behind. It’s basically all the information your loved ones may need to sort out your affairs in one central location and it can save them a lot

Everyone’s will be different, but following is a guide to what to include in yours:

A woman going through folders.

An overview of your assets and liabilities

Include bank accounts, property, any shares you own and superannuation. On the liabilities side, list your home loan, any investment loans as well as credit cards and personal loans. Make sure to include relevant account numbers.

Your Will and copies of other important documents

Some of the documents to pop in your file are your birth certificate, marriage or divorce certificate(s), passport, driver’s licence, titles for any properties you own, a copy of any binding nominations and insurance policies.

Your digital legacy

So much of what we do is online now so something else you need to think about is your digital legacy. This can include books and music you’ve purchased, streaming services, your email and social media accounts as well as photo and video online storage accounts. The government website has some helpful information on planning your digital legacy.


You’ll need to share the passwords for your online banking account, phone, computer, emails, social media accounts and any banking apps, to name just a few! Don’t forget to add the usernames as well. A good idea can be to use a password manager to save your passwords and then you only need to list the password to that account in your file.

A woman writing notes while looking at a laptop.

A list of contacts

This may consist of both professional and personal contacts. On the professional front, for example, this could include your lawyer, accountant and financial advisor. From a personal point of view you may want to list the contact numbers of any friends and acquaintances you’d like to be told that you have passed away.

Funeral wishes

If you have certain requests for your funeral then this is the place to spell them out. It could be as simple as whether you prefer to be buried or cremated or you might want to go into more detail. Maybe you want a particular song played at the service or your favourite cake to be served afterwards.

Letters to loved ones or an ethical Will

This one will probably be the hardest but you do have an opportunity to write letters – or perhaps you prefer to make a video – for your loved ones.

You might also consider leaving an “ethical Will”. This isn’t a legal document but an opportunity to share more about yourself, your values, life lessons, favourite memories and hopes for the future. You can even include photographs and your favourite recipes. It can be a great keepsake – even for future generations that you haven’t met. 

A woman going through her daily planner.

Where to keep your “When I die” file

It goes without saying that your file should be kept somewhere safe. You don’t want just anyone to be able to access your sensitive information. Maybe there’s a good hiding spot in your home or you may consider investing in a fireproof safe. Another option is to store it away from home in a safety deposit box. You might even be able to save some of the information digitally – just make sure it’s password protected.

Who should know about your “When I die” file

There’s not much point gathering all this information together if no one knows about it. You might opt to let a few key people know about your file and where they can find it.

That said, not telling anyone is another option. Estate planning lawyer Melisa Sloan says, “You may also want to keep a sealed envelope with your original Will and details of where your file is held, and this envelope could be provided to your executor upon your death.” Of course, if you take this approach make sure your loved ones know where your Will is kept! 

Extra tips for your “When I die” file

  • Don’t feel like it all has to be done at once. There’s a lot of information to pull together and it can feel overwhelming, so you may want to break it down into manageable chunks over a few months.
  • Consider downloading a free “When I die” template. There are lots to choose from and they provide a guide of what you should include, which can make the process feel a little less overwhelming.
  • Make sure you keep it up-to-date. If things change, amend your file accordingly. It’s a good idea to review it at least once a year.

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