Going Paperless: 6 Steps for Life Continuity Planning in Evernote

At the day job, we’ve been going through various business continuity exercises over the last year or so. These are exercises in which we imagine some catastrophic disaster from which we then have to continue doing business-as-usual. Or, as close to as-usual as we can manage.

The corollary outside the business world, of course, is estate planning, something which we don’t like to dwell on, but which is necessary for the continued comfort of our loved ones after we’ve gone to the big ball park in the sky1. Of course, it’s one thing to have the various estate plans setup, and another thing to for them to be readily accessible when they are needed.

Earlier this year I went through the process of setting up what I call a “Life Continuity” plan in Evernote and making sure that my family could easily access it in the event of my untimely demise. Roughly speaking, these are the 6 steps I went through to make sure that my life continuity plan was useful and practical.

1. Tag all critical documents with “911”

When some bad happens, things get frantic quickly. I don’t want people needlessly hunting for documents and information that should be readily accessible. So the first thing that I did was go through all of the documents that I thought would be critical: powers of attorney, wills, life insurance, etc., and tagged them with “911.”

In the U.S. “911” is the number you dial when there’s an emergency. It’s short, it’s simple, and no one who is looking through my relatively short list of tags, could mistake its meaning.

I was careful not to overdo it. I really just wanted to make sure that the most critical documents were accessible so that there was no added frustration at a time when emotions run hot. There was probably a total of 10 or 12 documents that got tagged this way.

2. Create a checklist note of the most important things to do

Back when I was private pilot, I learned about the importance of checklists. The real value of a checklist comes, not from its routine use, but when an emergency arises. You don’t want to have to hunt around for information. It needs to be right in front of you.

I tried to imagine the kind of information my family would need access to quickly, and I created a note in Evernote that outlined this information. People to contact, both friends and family, but also professionals: lawyers, accountants, etc. I tried to put the list in some order of priority so that whoever was using it wouldn’t need to think to much. Everything would be right there, including the names, phone numbers and email addresses.

Of course, I also tagged this note “911.”

3. Use note links to easily access related notes

Where it made sense, I added note links on my checklist that link to the documents to which they refer. Sure, these documents are also accessible by searching for the “911” tag, but on the checklist the items are in order, and rather than having to go hunting, or even taking an extra step to search, all you have to do is click on a link to access the note.

4. Create a “911” saved search

With the various documents tagged, it made sense to cut out one step of the process by creating a “911” saved-search. This simply searches for all documents tagged “911” no matter where they are located.

911 Search

One of the nice side-effects of naming the saved search 911 is that, in my case, at least, it’s the very first search in the list.

5. Make sure the notes are accessible to those who need them

It’s great to backup your computer regularly, and there is a sense of security that comes along with knowing your data is safe somewhere in case of disaster. But as an old mentor of mine frequently pointed out, the backup is worthless if you can’t restore it quickly and easily.

The same is true for the life continuity documents. They need to be easily accessible, and I needed to consider the different levels of technical ability of those who might need to access to the documents.

I did three things to ensure the documents are accessible:

1. I shared them with the people who would need to access them

In my case, this was my wife, and some other members of my family.

2. I made sure that the documents were available to them when they were offline.

This meant setting up offline notebooks on my wife’s mobile device. Of course, to use offline notebooks you need to be an Evernote Premium user, but she is and so that part, at least, wasn’t a problem.

3. I had my family test it out.

It’s one things for me to go and set things up on their computers and devices. It’s another for my family to be able to access these notes when they are needed. So we ran through a quick exercise, to make sure that my family could access the 911 saved-search. We clicked through each document to make sure it was accessible. And then, I took their mobile devices completely offline, and made sure that the documents were still accessible.

6. Use reminders to periodically review

Over time, estate documents change. Old documents go away and new documents are added. It is important that these documents stay up-to-date. But it could get complicated trying to setup reminders for every document.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to. I set up a 6-month reminder on my Life Continuity Checklist note. Every 6 months, I get a reminder, and I use that opportunity to review what’s on the checklist, update what’s needed, and then reset the reminder for 6 months later.

Having a plan like this in place gives me a little extra piece of mind. And it really didn’t take that long to setup. The trickiest part was making sure everyone who needed access to the documents could access them without my intervention. Once that was accomplished, the rest was relatively easy.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let  me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post:  Add Reminders to Scanned Documents for Quick Action Items.

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  1. I’m not talking about Coors Field, gang.


  1. Jamie,
    Excellent post! Recently you asked us for additional ideas for posts and, frankly, I struggled to come up with any suggestions. But with this post you have once again proven to be creative, practical, and helpful all at the same time. I love this idea. Thank you.
    I currently use my Evernote primarily as a electronic filing cabinet for my own use (as the primary bill payer in the family) and for over a year now, it has been working well, but I am looking for ways to extend the utility of Evernote beyond what I do now. One idea is find a way to introduce others in my family to Evernote and this post is a particularly good way to accomplish that. Going forward, I would love to read about any other other ideas that involve sharing Evernote/Notes with others. Thanks again for your very supportive blog.

    1. Thanks, Tom! You are not the only one requesting to know more about how to use Evernote with others (like family members) so there will likely be a post on that in the future.

  2. This is an OUTSTANDING idea! I’ve been working on getting more organized in general and I’m going to incorporate this idea into my plan. I take care of information for both of my senior citizen parents, a small business I have and myself, so I love all the ideas on this blog. One question: Do you keep this vital information in an online or offline notebook? Just thinking about security versus access and not sure which way I want to go with this information.

    1. Thanks, Karen. I keep the information online in Evernote, because you never know where you’ll be when you need access to it. I don’t lose any sleep over the security issues, in part because I have good online security practices. Of course, you have to find the balance between security and accessibility that is most comfortable for you.

  3. As a recovery specialist and in addition to this post, it would be great to see your business continuity plan.

  4. I’m a new Evernote user, and just found this site. What a fantastic resource you have created!! Thank you so much. I probably would never have thought about the 911 file on my own, but now it will be one of the first things I implement.


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