How to Organize Your Finances with a Financial Inventory

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What happens if you or your spouse were to die or be seriously injured? Would you know how to handle the finances or know where to find all your important documents? Would you have a clear picture of all your financial accounts? Would either spouse be able to carry on managing the finances without input…

What happens if you or your spouse were to die or be seriously injured? Would you know how to handle the finances or know where to find all your important documents? Would you have a clear picture of all your financial accounts? Would either spouse be able to carry on managing the finances without input from the other?

For most people, the answer is a simple, “I don’t know.”

For the first few years of our marriage, my wife and I talked about our finances, but we didn’t share important logins and account information, even though we had combined our finances. I realized I needed to organize all of our logon information so either my wife or I can easily step in and take care of any financial situation as it happens – without struggling to get the information necessary to do so and trying to figure out the new budget for the new situation.

It is important for both of us to be able to access all of our accounts in the event of an emergency. If something happened to me, I would want my wife to be able to handle everything from a financial standpoint, and not have to go through lawyers or other hassles to get the account information.

Why Create a Financial Inventory?

Doing a periodic financial inventory is a great way to get a big picture view of your financial situation, as well as a detailed view of all your accounts. A financial inventory is essential in the event of the death of a loved one, catastrophic natural disaster, fire, flood, theft, etc. You want to be able to resume your financial life with as little stress as possible.

My wife and I have been refining our finances over the years we have been married. While they aren’t perfect, we have done a lot to simplify and organize our finances so we know where to find basic account information and either one of us should be able to handle the finances individually.

How to Create a Financial Inventory

Creating a financial inventory isn’t a difficult task, but it can be very time consuming. I recommend setting aside a large block of time where you can gather information, documents, and other pertinent information. In the process you may also find areas where you can streamline and simplify your finances. Take notes and make the changes later, otherwise you will split your efforts and double the time it takes to accomplish both tasks.

In your financial inventory you will want to create a list of all your financial accounts, including assets and debts, real estate holdings, titles, deeds, valuable property such as artwork or jewelry, insurance policies, retirement accounts, legal documents such as will and trusts, and contact information for important people involved in your finances, including your financial planner, accountant, or lawyer. Many of these items should also be included in your home inventory. Below are some of the steps you can take to create your personalized financial inventory.

List All Your Financial Accounts (Assets)

Your account list should include the contact information, address, account number, website address, user name, password, and other information necessary to access your account. This document will contain sensitive information, so you will need to protect it by keeping it in a safe deposit box, in a safe, or encrypted on your computer or external hard drive. Also consider keeping an encrypted file online. You can also keep the account number and password list separate – just make sure each is in a safe location and they are not stored together. You account list should include:

List Liabilities and Credit Accounts

This list should include lender contact information, account numbers, and a rough estimate of amount owed for each loan in your name. You want a rough estimate of how much you owe to make it easier for any survivors to get an accurate sense of your affairs.

  • Credit cards: list card issuer, number, and contact information.
  • Mortgage: lender information, escrow company contact info, purchase price, recent valuation estimate.
  • Personal loans: Auto loan, student loans, other loans.

Insurance and Other Financial Accounts

You will need to keep a copy if your insurance policies. If they are too bulky to print, then consider saving a pdf file to your hard drive or a portable thumb drive.

  • Health insurance and/or health savings accounts
  • Homeowner’s  or renter’s insurance
  • car insurance
  • life insurance
  • disability insurance
  • long-term care insurance

Wills, Estate Plans, and Other Legal Personal Documents

  • Wills: Living will, last will and testament
  • Durable power of attorney (financial)
  • Durable power of attorney (medical)
  • Beneficiary designations for bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance, etc.
  • Legal business documents, such as letters of incorporation
  • landlord-tenant contract
  • other legal forms or estate planning documents

Other Important Personal Documents

Your situation may include items not listed above, so be sure to include other important documents that you will need. Some examples are listed below:

Non-Financial Accounts, Information, & Documents:

It’s important to keep track of other important accounts and information. The following items will either have intrinsic value and you will need this information in the event of an emergency, or the itms will have sentimental value. If it’s important to you now, think about how your survivors will view them if you pass away or are incapacitated.

  • Social Security Numbers – for all family members
  • Automobile information – VIN, License plate number
  • Titles and deeds – cars, property, etc; where they are located and other necessary info
  • Driver’s license number – expiration date
  • Medical contact info – doctors, dentists, etc.
  • Cell phone – account number, logon, password, voice mail password, etc.
  • Small Business – website info, logons, passwords, advertisers, etc.
  • Airline miles and various rewards programsairline miles don’t always expire upon death
  • E-mail accounts – personal and professional
  • Other account information

Contact List

  • Next of kin and close friends
  • lawyer
  • accountant
  • financial advisor
  • insurance agent
  • physician
  • employer

How to Secure Financial Account Information

I realize there is a lot of sensitive information in this list – enough to be any identity thief’s dream come true if he got a copy of this list. That is why I plan on encrypting it. There are many ways you can do this, including free software such as KeePass, which is designed to do just this. My wife and I would share a password and all the data contained in our list would be secured by that password. We can also carry it on a USB drive, or upload it to a computer server so we can access it from wherever we are. There are also dozens of open source and commercial password managers which will offer similar protections. I’ll leave it to you do research which one is the best for your needs.

A Financial Inventory Helps you Pick Up the Pieces

Doing a financial inventory will help give you or your survivors a complete picture of your financial situation, and make it easier to continue in the event the unthinkable happens. I recommend creating a financial inventory annually, or every time you have a major life event, such as a birth/death in the family, moving, new job, purchase a new home, start/sell a business, etc. Your financial inventory is also useful for creating a will or a financial continuation plan.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. Mrs. Micah says

    I’m working on writing something about this, too. But not for my blog. Your piece reminded me about mortgages and insurance, I’ll remember to include those too…I just don’t think about it.

    Juggling accounts is pretty annoying for us right now. I like that my ING account is now set up with a “Saver ID” which I chose myself. Instead of a long number to memorize!

  2. PT from Prime Time Money says

    I found it helpful to include the following on my list:

    Account – simpky the name
    Limit – any credit limit associated with the account
    Type of Payment – fixed, variable, or annual
    Due Date
    UserID
    Current Password
    AutoPay – yes/no; if yes, I explain what account the money is withdrawn from
    Online Statement – online vs paper
    Email – what email account is on the account

    Good post. I may share more about my setup soon.

  3. PT from Prime Time Money says

    Oh, and we didn’t use KeePass, we just use GoogleDocs and only share with ourselves. Crazy?

    You should be able to password protect any excel file. I don’t know about encription though.

  4. matt good says

    I use KeePass for basically the same thing you are thinking about doing – and it is a great little program. I have a couple comments you may find helpful, however:

    #1 – BACK THE SUCKER UP. In multiple places. If you have a hard time remember your passwords now, just wait until you never have to type them again. Hard drives crash, USB drives can be zapped pretty easily too… Backing up data is too large and important of a topic to go into in detail here, but suffice it to say, its important.

    #2 – Now that you’re going to be keeping track of these passwords using a helpful tool, it might be a good time to go through them and change your passwords to more secure ones, if they aren’t already. Different ones for different accounts, preferably, so it would limit the damage if one password becomes compromised. Note that doing this also makes doing #1 even more important…

    But yeah, I use KeePass and like it. I’m just waiting for Google to roll out a free data backup service (hopefully some day) to solve #1 so that I can go crazy with #2.

  5. Ryan says

    PT, great tips on both comments. I think the Google Docs idea is a pretty good one. It also allows you to have your info anywhere, and you can’t lose it in the event of a fire, etc.

    Matt, Great info! I agree about backing things up, and do it regularly. I also use strong passwords – big/small letters, numbers, symbols, etc. I also have several different variations and use some that are not related at all. I highly doubt anyone will guess the passwords just by knowing my birthday and favorite color. Not sure I could stop a brute force attack, but really, who can? If they have the right software, they could probably carck the password and get in eventually.

    Google may not have a free data backup process yet, but you can always zip a file and e-mail it to yourself and archive it. That would be a great way to store data.

  6. SingleGuyMoney says

    I use Billeo. I am able to store all my passwords and also save screenshots whenever I pay a bill online or if I just need to save a webpage.

  7. CiaranFromChance says

    Hey Ryan,

    I stumbled this article a couple days ago. A few old fashion ideas on securing your passwords. Not sure if you’d entertain any of these but figured I’d throw it out there. Make sure your spouse knows your passwords

  8. Susy says

    I use 1Password. It will even generate strong passwords for you. It makes everything so much easier for me! You can also set up different account for each website. I have my library card info and my husbands on there, then if I want to renew his library card I just choose his in the file and it opens up. I LOVE IT!

  9. matt good says

    It’s definitely true that no solution is totally safe – if someone is super-determined, they’ll be able to crack it. Same is true with physical security (i.e. your home). The approach I’ve taken is to make it hard enough for troublemakers so that it’s not worth their trouble. It’s likely that there’s somebody else they could mess with that would be easier, so why bother with me?

    And the emailing it to yourself is a great idea – but you’d want to do that nearly every time you add a new username or password… Which is a little more hassle than I’d like. It’s still a smart idea – but I really wish google with come up with a better way. They’re so good at doing that sort of thing.

  10. onarock says

    Keepass…what a great idea. I am about to install it right now.

    I have most of my important info locked in a safe. If anything happens to me, my hon will still be lost, as he is not a computer type of guy. Everything can be done by phone as well, so all of the phone numbers are in the safe as well.

    k

  11. Financial Samurai says

    Good reminder Ryan. We’ve done an inventory of our house belongings for insurance reasons, but doing something bigger like this is a great idea. We’ll do it this weekend.

    BTW, sent you a shout out on my latest post. Thanks!

  12. David @ MBA briefs says

    Excellent post, and another good kick in the butt to get me to do something I’ve been neglecting/putting off. Something I did when I had to manage a federally funded program that was subject to property and financial audits was to take pictures of high value items and linked them to a spreadsheet with info about the items, model number/purchase price/purchase date/etc. Maybe a little anal to do in this instance but not a bad idea for insurance purposes. Anyway, it made the auditors happy 🙂

    • Ryan says

      David, I don’t think that’s overboard at all for an insurance inventory – especially if you have one of a kind items, heirlooms, antiques, or other items that are difficult or expensive to replace. I haven’t done an insurance inventory in a long time. It’s probably a great time to do it!

  13. LeanLifeCoach says

    We’ve been doing this for the past 10 years. It’s amazing how complicated your life can really get. We just updated it over the holidays but after looking at your list I see you have some other great suggestions like contact info for family and friends.

    You also trigger the thought for those active on the web to capture all your connections there, affiliate relationships, account numbers, etc…

    • Ryan says

      You should definitely do this if you have a business as well. Most small businesses are run in the minds of the owners and would suffer greatly should something happen to him/her. I need to create a continuation plan to show my wife what to do with my business should something happen to me.

  14. David says

    Hey Ryan,

    To start let me say that I really enjoy reading your blog. I am learning a lot, thank you.

    I have a blog article request. I want to put a personal income statement and balance sheet together. I don’t really know how to do it properly, I’m also not sure if it is necessary – maybe it’s going a bit overboard. I would find an article similar to this one super helpful.

    Thanks very much, all the best.

    David.

    • Ryan says

      David, Check out Consumerism Commentary, which might feature what you are looking for. The blogger there, Flexo, puts out a monthly net worth statement. Example: Personal Balance Sheet, November 2009.

      He uses Quicken to create his reports.

  15. Kathy says

    Hello Ryan,
    I am in the process of doing just what you have laid out in your article. However, I am having trouble determining the best format. Any suggestions as to the best way to document all of this? Is there anyone who has created a program or spreadsheet that I can just “plug-in” my own info? I just don’t know where to begin!

    Thanks ~ Kathy

    • Ryan says

      Kathy, I just used an Excel spreadsheet (you can also use OpenOffice.org or Google Docs for free alternatives). I create a heading for each type of account, account name, contact information and other pertinent data. Then I made a spreadsheet for each of the major topics: one for financial accounts (banks, investments, etc.), one for debts, contact info, home inventory, etc. It took a few hours, but I have a solid reference sheet for all my important info. There may be some pre-made solutions available for download, but I’m not aware of any.

  16. Alicia says

    Hi Ryan,
    Thank you so much for the info. I’m married to an accountant and he takes care of all of the financial “stuff” around here. I’ve been wondering about something like this to have as a just-in-case. I sat down today and worked up the spreadsheet (with all 6 worksheets that you suggested) then informed my hubby that he needs to plug in all the info.
    I am also adding a worksheet for all of the email and newsletter accounts that we have signed up for with logins, etc.
    Next on the to-do list is a household inventory. Any suggestions for a template?
    Oh, I did find a free “Personal Finance Organizer” on TodaysSeniors.com, of all places. I still went the Excell route though.
    Thanks again,
    Alicia

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