Don't let an emergency of a loved one leave you scrambling for official documents. By proactively gathering essential healthcare and financial papers, an emergency can be a little less stressful for caregivers when they need critical access to information to help a family member.
3 Steps for Preparing Essential Documents for Seniors
- File all important documents in one place. No one plans to have an emergency. By locating and organizing documents before an emergency happens, you can save your family quite a bit of hassle. Whether you set up a file, add to a drawer, or complete a financial book, the most important part is gathering all information where it is easily accessible. If you keep documents in a safe deposit box then also keep copies in a file at home with directions to check the safe deposit box for original documents. Of course, don't forget to let your family members know where the safe deposit box is located and where the key can be found. Update the file annually (or more often if needed). If you store your will with an attorney, be sure to tell your family members that you have done so.
- Don't hide your important documents. Tell family members where the papers are located before a crisis occurs.
- Choose your healthcare and financial proxies. Do you know who will make decisions for you if you are unable to communicate or are mentally incapacitated? Have a conversation with a trusted family member, friend, doctor, or lawyer and decide who will be your healthcare and financial proxies. Consider individuals who share your views about life and medical decisions. A trusted healthcare proxy should be someone who can easily communicate with family, friends, and healthcare professionals. This individual will not only have decision-making powers but will also have full access to confidential medical records.
Your durable power of attorney (DPOA) will have access to real estate, banking and financial transactions, personal and family maintenance, government benefits, estate trust, and beneficiary transactions. Because of the time and work required for this role, carefully consider this choice. Due to legal requirements of documents with this role, consult a professional, such as an attorney, in preparing the DPOA.
- Doctors' names, their specialties and contact information
- Durable power-of-attorney for healthcare and HIPAA release
- Advanced healthcare directives such as Do Not Resuscitate Order and/or Do Not Incubate Order if you do not want CPR or a breathing tube
- Living will
- Medical history and medications taken regularly
- Copies of lifesaving prescriptions (like insulin, asthma inhalers, etc.)
- Copy of health insurance and prescriptions cards including Medicare and Medicaid
- Long-term care insurance policy
- List of all bank accounts (checking, savings, and credit union) including account numbers
- Location of safety deposit box and key
- Pension documents, 401(k) information, and annuity contracts
- Investments documents including savings bonds, stock certificates, and brokerage accounts
- Original property deeds
- Vehicle title and registration
- Documentation of loans and debts, including mortgage
- Durable financial power-of-attorney
- Social security information
- Copy of most recent income tax return
- Liabilities, such as property tax, including what is owed and to whom and when
- Partnership and corporate operating agreements
- Credit and debit card names and numbers; recent account statements
- Will or revocable living trust
- Trust documents
- Life insurance policies
- End-of-life instruction letter for items not covered in the will
More Essential Documents
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce decree(s)
- List of online usernames and passwords
- Military records for the individual and their spouse, including discharge record
- Birth certificate or adoption certificate
- Driver’s license, green card, and other identification cards
- Social Security card
- Social media account login information (so that accounts may be closed if needed.) How to close online accounts instructions.
- Inventory of household goods
- Names and addresses of people to notify in case of an emergency
- Names and contact information for local clergy
- Names and contact information for the lawyer, accountant, and insurance agent
Although it may seem like a lot of work to gather these documents in one place, having access to critical information in an emergency can reduce you and your family's stress. The best way to get started is to begin in one area or identify crucial documents. Good luck!