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A Life Book For Your Loved Ones

If you were to die tomorrow, would your family or friends know how to sort out the details of your life?  If you had a stroke, would anyone know how to find your bank accounts, investments, estate plan, insurance policies or online accounts? Wouldn’t it feel great to make life easier on them?

When Robyn Sechler’s father learned of his terminal condition, his first thought was not about himself or the unfairness of the diagnosis.  He focused on his family.  He stopped on the way home from the doctor’s office and bought a cheap spiral notebook. Starting that day, he carried the notebook with him and wrote down everything that his wife and daughter would need to know to carry on without him.

Robyn’s dad had taken responsibility over the years for a variety of tasks around the house. So he wrote in the notebook that a particular faucet had to be jiggled a certain way. He noted the repairmen to call if a problem came up with one part of the house or another. Robyn’s dad joked at the time that his wife and daughter would live in the dark when he’s gone because they wouldn’t know how to change the lightbulbs!

Eleven years after her father’s death, Robyn continues to consult the notebook. The simple act of writing down details of everyday life provided practical guidance and an enduring reminder of his love.  Inspired by her father’s notebook, Robyn published How to Change the Lightbulbs When I’m Gone While anyone could keep a notebook or binder with important information and instructions, the book prompts readers to consider details they would likely overlook or take for granted.

The act of completing an estate plan can not only preserve property for family members, but it also avoids the confusion and frustration that result when family members try to care for a loved one in ill health.  Having a detailed power of attorney that authorizes steps to preserve assets can alleviate stress and worry for the family, but it assumes that those family members will know where money and property is kept.  It assumes that the trusted holder of the power of attorney knows how to access online accounts and what arrangements have been made with a funeral home

A thorough life book will give your family every detail they need to make sure your bills get paid and your property is maintained when you are gravely ill. When your family is grieving your death, the life book alleviates their burden by showing them how to wrap up your legal and financial affairs.  Robyn Sechler’s husband, Tim, happens to be an elder law attorney near Pittsburgh. Robyn and Tim have undoubtedly had many dinner table conversations about how to share the legacy left by Robyn’s father.  How to Change the Lightbulbs When I’m Gone is the product of those conversations and is a great way to leave a lasting gift to your family.

Although the book addresses passwords to access such “digital assets” as social media accounts, online bank accounts, blogs, and the books and music you have purchased in online formats, some people may feel uncomfortable with the lack of security of hand-written passwords.  There are solutions to that problem. Companies such as GoodTrust ( allow users to securely store all of their online passwords in one place and name a “deputy” who will be allowed to access them when it becomes necessary. This is another way to leave things tidy for the people who will care for you and settle your estate when you are gone.

Of course, your life book could go well beyond the practical instruction manual about legal planning, financial accounts, insurance policies, and household maintenance.  When Robyn Sechler’s father was in his final days, Tim saw his wife speaking with her father and left an old BlackBerry phone to record their conversation.  Imagine the emotions Robyn felt when she set up her father’s photograph and played the recorded conversation for her children, who had never met their grandfather.

Now imagine what you could do with modern technology.  Most people walk around with phones that record video and audio that can be uploaded to a vast array of online platforms.  Robyn founded Securing Memories ( so that families could see and hear their long-lost loved ones telling the stories of their lives. Securing Memories offers various decks of cards with questions to prompt a family member while the conversation is recorded on a phone. 

In past generations, a diary might reveal what life was like, but imagine hearing the voice and seeing the facial expressions of your great-grandfather as he describes meeting your great-grandmother and living through historic events.  Securing Memories partners with digital companies that guarantee the storage of this footage for generations to come. 

A life book in whatever form it takes requires action.  The effort you make is a selfless gift to the people who love you.  They will appreciate how you cleaned things up by directing them to all the right people and places to make sense of your property.  They will cherish the glimpse you allow them into the meaningful life you have led. 

But you must take action. In addition to Securing Memories, there are plenty of resources available to give you ideas on how to make life easier for your family.  Keystone Elder Law will be hosting seminars in Mechanicsburg to give you the big picture of legal planning for your later years. You may discover problems that you did not know you had and come away with solutions to avoid them. Call (717) 697-3223 to learn more about the seminars. Join the Facebook group “Later in Life Planning and Resources,” where every day videos and articles are posted about practical steps you can take to prepare yourself and your family for the years ahead.

The story of your life, from the mundane practical details to the emotional challenges and triumphs, should be shared. Don’t miss the opportunity to give this gift.

Patrick Cawley, Attorney