Part 1:  The “Everyday” Items that People Often Forget


As we learn more and more every day, the unexpected continues to happen.  This article is part one of a two-part series written to assist you in preparing for the unexpected. Think of this as a fire drill for if something should happen to a loved one. If you get everything in order now, it will make things much more seamless when they need to be.


Let’s look at a hypothetical family.  James, age 55, is married to Deborah, age 47.  They have been married for 7 years.  James was married previously for 15 years to Marcy.  Marcy and James have a son, Michael, 14 years old.  James and Deborah have a daughter, Lily, 8 years old.  Deborah has never been married before and has no other children.

James’ parents are both deceased.  James retired a few years ago from his state job, but decided to keep working.  James was traveling for work when he suddenly passed of a heart attack.  James had no indication of health issues before.  Deborah was not expecting this at all and is left to determine what she should do next.

The “Everyday” Items that People Often Forget

Determining James’ benefits

James worked in sales, and part of his job was partially commission based.  Deborah is not sure of the other benefits that James’ job provided. Deborah has the name and contact information of the company’s human resources contact, but wants to make sure that she did not miss anything.

  • State benefits – James had a monthly pension and a retirement annuity as a result of his retirement from his state job. Deborah will need to check to confirm whether she gets any, all or a portion of that monthly amount.  James would have made the election at the time of his retirement. The beneficiary on the retirement annuity will determine who receives the money.
  • Life insurance – As part of divorce from Marcy, James agreed that his life insurance will be used to cover his child support payments pay for Michael.
  • Medical insurance – Is Deborah entitled to having her medical insurance paid through a state pension deduction? If not, does she have a COBRA option, or must she go through the marketplace?
  • Final paycheck – Will James’ final paycheck be direct deposited to his account, mailed to him or to his estate? Since James had a fixed base salary and commissions, how will Deborah determine what James is entitled to with respect to unpaid or continuing commissions?  What does James’ employment agreement say with respect to sales in process at the time of James’ death?
  • Expense reimbursement – James has a stack of receipts in his home office and in his briefcase. Were they put on a company credit card?  Or, did James put on a personal credit card and is he entitled to reimbursement?
  • Vehicle used for company business – Did James use his own vehicle, rent a vehicle or have a company vehicle? What are the procedures for return or reimbursement for mileage?
  • Company stock — Part of James’ compensation package was company stock that is not publicly traded.  Can this be held by Deborah?  Must she sell it?   How is it valued?
  • Social Security benefits — Can Deborah obtain Social Security Survivor benefits for her daughter Lily?

Options and suggestions to keep and share key information

Create a hard copy or digital “just in case” folder with the following information in it:

  • Contact information for the HR or office manager at your job and prior places of employment if you are entitled to some type of death benefits
  • Employment contracts and employee manual
  • Policies for expense reimbursement, sales, bonuses, insurance
  • Essential records such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport, driver’s and other professional licenses
  • Checklist of what would need to be done for your significant other or loved one(s)
  • Have a backup person to help

Accessing and Administering Digital Technology and Assets

James was up to date on technology. He had both a personal and work computer, a personal tablet and two smart phones.  He had both a personal and work e-mail as well as various social media accounts, including  Facebook and Twitter.  Deborah doesn’t know the passwords to his computer, e-mail, or other digital accounts.  Most of their family photos are on his personal computer. She wants to use some of these for the memorial service, but can’t access them.

Options and suggestions to keep and share key information

  • Have a list of all accounts for which you have an online presence.
    • Banks
    • Vendors
    • Social Media
    • Personal
    • Work (follow the work guidelines)
  • Password protect them with a unique password. Write down the passwords and keep them safe.   Don’t put the list right next to your computer.  Store it somewhere else.  Or use a password manager service or app.  Use two-step authentication if it is available.
  • Make sure your significant other or go to person knows where the passwords are and what bills are paid online in the event of an emergency

Locating legal documents

Deborah and James signed legal documents about five years ago. She thinks that they took the documents home with them, but cannot locate them.  They may be in the safe. She does not know the combination and wonders if the attorney may have a copy of the documents.

Options and suggestions to keep and share key information

  • Have a list of professional advisors and contact information.
  • Place copies of your legal documents in a safe spot in your home.


Don’t make any decisions without consulting a professional team – this will be addressed in Part 2.

 Part 2:  Legal Aspects of Preparing for the Unexpected (coming soon)

Marshall, Parker & Weber is open and available to help you assess what documents you may need or whether your current plan is in good shape. Call us at 800-401-4552 to schedule an appointment. You can also check out our portal for complimentary blog articles, videos and webinars.
We serve individuals and families across Pennsylvania from three convenient office locations.
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