SEATTLE -- In the days after Chanel Reynolds' husband was hit while riding his bicycle near Lake Washington here and the best-case possibilities just kept getting worse, she was not yet consumed by grief. There were no dogged middle-of-the-night Web searches for faraway cures for his crushed upper spine or tearful bedside vigils with their 5-year-old son.
Instead, the buzz in her brain came from a growing list of financial tasks that grown-ups are supposed to have finished by the time they approach middle age.
And she and her husband, Jose Hernando, had not finished them.
"I was finding it really hard for me to stay present and in the room and to be able to hear what the doctors were saying because I was so overwhelmed with not knowing how much money we had in our checking account, and the fact that we had our wills drafted but not signed," she said.
In the many months of suffering after Hernando's death in July 2009, she beat herself up while spending dozens of hours excavating their financial life and slowly reassembling it. But then, she resolved to keep others from ever again being in the same situation.
The result is a website named for the scolding, profane exhortation that her inner voice shouted during those dark days in the intensive care unit. She might have called it Getyouracttogether.org, but she changed just one word, which rhymes with "hit."
The site offers basic financial advice, gives away free templates for a master checklist and provides starter forms to draft a will, living will and power of attorney. There's also a guide to starting a list of all of the accounts in your life that someone might need to access and shut down in your absence. All of these forms and lists are out there on the Web in various places, though rarely in one place. But there are two things that make Reynolds' effort decidedly different.
First, the world of personal finance suffers from an odd sort of organizational failure. We tend to organize our thinking around products: retirement accounts, mortgages, long-term care insurance.
But in the real world, it's a big life event that often governs our hunt for solutions. Sometimes, it's a happy one, like getting married. But there are few ready-made tool kits like the one Reynolds has assembled for people considering the possibility of serious illness or death.
The other thing that compelled me to sprint here right after I stumbled across her site Tuesday night was that it is not neutered, stripped of the mess of feelings that govern much of what we do with our money. Sometimes, we just need to meet the person in personal finance. Maybe, just maybe, hearing the story of someone who has been there, in the worst possible way, can finally push us all into action.
And we desperately need to act. According to a survey that the legal services site Rocket Lawyer conducted in 2011, 57% of adults in the United States do not have a will. Of those 45 to 64 years of age, a shocking 44% still have not gotten it down.
People who get a fatal diagnosis from a doctor at least have a bit of time to sort things out. But Reynolds and her husband had made only a few plans.
Hernando was 43 years old on the day in July 2009 when a van mowed him down while making a left turn into the path of his bicycle. He was a self-taught engineer. At the time of his death, he rode for a cycling team and was a Flash developer working at the highly regarded firm Frog Design.
What saved Reynolds, now 42, from ruin was life insurance. They didn't have a lot, but they had just enough (a couple of hundred thousand dollars in the end) to keep her from having to go right back to work as a freelance project manager and sell the house at a big loss right away.
So she did not go bankrupt. But the lack of a signed will ended up costing her thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees. And then there was the extended period of suspended animation, where she was trying to figure out where she stood with insurance and retirement accounts and phone bills but could not get the information that she needed without account numbers and passwords.
There are a few things about Reynolds' site that seem unique to me, though.
The first is her raw insistence on considering what it means if you're having trouble finding the right people to serve as your estate's executor or to inherit prized possessions.
"If you are at a loss for whom to name, get out there and tighten up your friends and family relationships," she writes on the site. "Find some better friends. Be a better friend. This is everything. This means everything."
Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for the New York Times. Reach him on Twitter @ronlieber.