Continue to site >
Trending ETFs


Put Your Dividend House in Order

What good will all your dividend success be if your significant other or others don’t know anything about it and you can’t tell them?

I’m speaking, of course, of the possibility that something may happen to you suddenly, making you unable to inform your wife, husband, children, or other important people of your securities holdings and other vital wealth-related information.

So today I’m going to shame/scare/cajole you into creating a “Here’s Where Everything Is in Case I Drop Dead” list.

OK, you can change the heading if you’d like, but let’s stop pussyfooting around the Big D, as we Americans love to do. As the late Joan Rivers used to say, “Grow up.” All of us die, and too many times death or incapacity hits us without warning.

It’s horrible, but people have strokes, are victims of car crashes, or suddenly become very ill — and for too many of us, these unforeseen and tragic misfortunes occur before there’s been a chance to organize one’s affairs. Worse, the complexity and online nature of recordkeeping these days, while a boon since we can do it all ourselves, becomes a nightmare for someone else to figure out. Just think of all the PINs you have floating around in your head. (In fact, if you continue to live for a long, long time, as I hope you do, having a “Drop Dead” list will be a useful resource should you forget any of this stuff.)

The List

So today we’re not going to do anything complicated; we’re just going to get organized. Here’s what to do:

  • At the top of your list, write the title of the list. Use my wacky title or something that’s less dramatic if you like, so long as anyone finding it will understand what it is. Include the current date, so you can update it as necessary and the person finding it will know that it’s fairly current.
  • Write down your name, date of birth, Social Security number and driver’s license number.
  • Next, write down the login information for your computer.
  • Write the names of all your banks and all account numbers (checking, saving, CDs). IF you bank online, write down the login information and PIN.
  • For each brokerage account you have, write down the name, number, login information and PIN.
  • Do the same thing for each credit card you have.
  • Write down the security images for each site, if the sites use them, the answers to any security questions you have provided and anything else that would make it easy for someone to go into your account and find out what’s there. We’ll get into the security implications of all that information in a minute.
  • Include similar information (account number, ID, login, PIN) for any life insurance you have.
  • If you’re employed, put down the name, phone number and email address of the human resources or benefits person at work that someone would contact for help with anything employment related.
  • IF you manage the finances of someone else (e.g. I pay the bills for my elderly mother and handle retirement accounts for my mother-in-law), enter all that information too.

Now, for security…

Print out the sheet and tell your significant other(s) that it exists. Place it in your home safe or in your safety deposit box at the bank. If you have neither, and you trust the person who will be looking for the information when the time comes, give that person a copy. Otherwise, store it in a safe place where the necessary person(s) will find it. You can keep a copy on your computer, of course, but if no one knows to look there, or if they can’t get into your computer, or you forget and get a new computer and delete all your old information, having the list will be useless.

These are easy steps to insure that those you care about won’t have to go nuts when they need access to your financial information. Just do it!


In the recent Better and Worse: Your Performance and the Market’s there was some confusion over the 7.7% compounded annual growth I noted on my shares of Duke Energy (DUK ) purchased in 2011. On July 2, 2012, Duke completed a 1-for-3 reverse stock split, making my purchase price of $19.97 the equivalent of $59.91. The stock now trades at about $69.00. I based my calculations on the value of my Duke shares, up 35% over almost four years (not five, as I misstated) due to reinvested dividends.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at