Caring for Aging Parents Series: Collecting Critical Documents

I recently attended a seminar presented by Diane Judd, a Certified Professional Organizer in the San Francisco area who specializes in working with individuals and families to prepare for end-of-life matters.  It was a great refresher for me and she had some wonderful resources to share. 

I often get asked for help identifying what “critical documents” we should have prepared for ourselves or by our family members for estate planning purposes. 

Judd referenced a fabulous article by the Wall Street Journal which gives a solid list of the 25 documents you need before you die. The list is broken down into categories and includes documents such as a Living Will, Power of Attorney, Prescription Drugs & Emergency Contacts List, Insurance Policies, Financial, Business and other Important Documents (see below for the complete list).

She offered a great strategy for those of us working with aging family members who may not have started the process of some of these.  Do them ourselves!  By starting the ball rolling for our own purposes, it can open up the conversation with our parents. “I’ve just started creating my will and these are some things you should know.”  This can be a perfect opening line to start understanding where things stand on the other side.

Once you’ve started the process of collecting critical documents, a storage system that makes them easy to retrieve is key.  Here are some tips and suggestions to help: 

Start as early as possible to work with your parents or loved one to review papers and identify what’s still current and applicable.  Oftentimes, we hold on to too many papers for fear of letting go of something we might need, leaving it challenging to figure out what is important.

Keep documents for your loved one filed separately from yours. Having a designated file drawer, file box, or folder is a great way to start.  By assigning a “home” for relevant paperwork, you’ll know where to look for something and where to put papers away. 

Scan the documents that you’ll need most often like a Power of Attorney (“POA” paperwork) so that you can access it quickly if you need to print out an extra copy or send it electronically to someone.

Store the most important, original versions in a safe place.  Consider a safety deposit box at the bank or a fire proof safe in your home. Just be sure to make copies (paper or electronic) for yourself first, for easy retrieval. 

Invest in a secure password vault, such as LastPass. Often these apps will have places for you to include secure notes in addition to account information, passwords, and login information.  Add to them over time as you uncover accounts that you need to track. 

As appropriate, store documents by year to allow for file system maintenance.  Store non-permanent documents like EOBs, paid bills, and insurance policies by date so that you can archive them and replace them more easily. 

If you travel to care for your family member, create a portable “grab and go” binder or folder that has copies of the most important documents.  This can include medical history/records, living will/advanced medical directives, and estate planning documents.  

I hope you find this useful. Have you already started the process? Any tips to add? Please share in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

Missed the other Posts in this series? You can find them here …

Caring for Aging Parents Series: Having that (very important) Conversation with Your Parents

Caring for Aging Parents Series: Demystifying EOB’s

The 25 Documents you Need before you Die as referenced by Judd from the Wall Street Journal, By Saabira Chaudhuri. July 2, 2011:

HEALTH: Living Will, Medical Power of Attorney, Prescription & Other Medicines List, Emergency Contacts

INSURANCE: Health Insurance, Life Insurance, Disability Insurance, Long Term Care Insurance, Homeowner’s Insurance, Other Insurance

INVESTMENTS: Financial Plan(s), Personal Investments, Retirement Investments, Annuities, Checking & Savings Account Information

ESTATE: Power of Attorney (POA), Will or Trust, Business Documents

OTHER IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS: Forms of Identification, Marriage License, Property Deeds, Vehicle Titles, Tax Returns, Website & Passwords list and Other Documents such as divorce decrees, prenups, contracts, death certicicates etc.

Image used under license agreement: ©MonkeyBusinessImages/Stockfresh

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About Wendy Buglio

Wendy is the CEO & Owner of Living Peace, a Certified Professional Organizer who has earned both Level II CD (Chronic Disorganization) and ADD Specialist designations from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. She is dedicated to discovering what’s most important and then developing strategies to get everything else out of the way. With her non-judgmental approach and calming energy (combined with a healthy dose of reality and a sense of humor), she works with clients to make decisions and take action to create desired change. She applies this approach to physical objects in residential and office environments, but also to intangible “clutter” – such as tasks, obligations and goals – helping to maximize her clients’ productivity and organization. Some of her favorite clients have ADD – something that Wendy sees as an asset to creative thinkers and entrepreneurs! Wendy lives in Arlington, MA with her husband Mike (bookstore owner), their 7-year-old son Tony, and rescue dog Rosie. In her free time, she loves to entertain and plan events, visit Downeast Maine, and is a competitive fantasy football player. She is a repeat 39-mile walker for the Avon 39, The Walk to End Breast Cancer.

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