I shared in an earlier blog the unsettling feeling of flipping through my mother’s desk drawers and file cabinets in what felt like an invasion of her privacy seeking important information we needed to know. We were faced with an unexpected health crisis and she needed certain documents to plan her care. There I was standing in her living room looking around thinking ‘if I were her insurance cards where would I be?’ Not a fun game to be playing when the only place you want to be, need to be, is at the hospital awaiting news. I couldn’t think straight.
That moment stayed with me a long time. Since then I’ve heard similar stories about people needing to know where the deeds were to their parents’ home so they could move them into senior housing but weren’t sure where to look. Or being asked to grab a loved one’s valuables to secure them while they were in rehab, ‘just look inside the jewelry box under my bed, you’ll find them.’ Except they didn’t. Even financial information can change hands quickly. After my grandmother died, we needed to locate her will and financial information except her financial planner had left the company a few years earlier and she didn’t tell us. Back to square one.
Accessing your loved one’s information shouldn’t be a labyrinth of paper trails but sometimes it’s what’s happens when we assume we have more time to have the all to important ‘what if something happens to you’ conversation. Life happens and honestly, as I learned with my mother, you don’t know what you don’t know until you need to know it, immediately.
What I learned from that experience is to be prepared. When a health crisis hit my in-laws, we were ready. I had taken the time to sit down with them over coffee and share how challenging it was when I had to go through my mother’s things and find everything. Honestly, I think they appreciated the moment to put it out on the table and talk through what needed to get done, where they should keep things and who should access what from someone who has been there. They were adamant they didn’t want the same thing happening to their kids.
We piled together the important documents in one place with clear instructions on what to do. My father-in-law even went as far as laminating the document to preserve the written instructions (he did the same thing for how to pick up the mail and which plants to water when they went south for the winter). Everyone’s different in their organizational style, the point is, it got them thinking and feeling really good about being prepared. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Peace of mind!
They gathered the following information and placed it in a secure safe (we all had the code) should we ever need quick access and placed each document into plastic page slip bags for preservation. What did they place in it? Here is their list:
- Social security cards
- Military ID, my father-in-law is a veteran
- Most recent copy of their will
- Deed to their house (which you’ll need if moving someone into senior living and want to liquidate assets)
- Birth and marriage certificates
- Advance directives
- Passwords to banking account so bills can continue to be paid
- Copies of signed documents showing which sibling was the trustee of their estate
- Contact information and names of their primary care docs, recent hospitalizations, and major allergies/diagnoses we should know about
- Contact information for financial planners
He really took to heart the planning and preparedness which worked when he was hospitalized and later move to a TCU (rehabilitation). We knew right where to find and access his important documents and it wasn’t stressful trying to figure it all out.
I also recommend reaching out to trusted experts for guidance from professionals who are dealing with senior-related issues for other things we may have overlooked. The goal is to proactively make sure for times of crisis that you have access to the information that helps you get the care your loved one needs, when they need it.
Download a copy of Homespire’s Family Planning for Aging: Your Protected Information Checklist. This has everything you need to get started. But don’t laminate it (my father-in-law may disagree), you may need to update it as your wishes and goals evolve over time as your health needs change. Reach out to Homespire Life Care Managers who can help answer any questions along the way. They specialize in helping seniors in the Salt Lake Valley Utah area age in place and avoid hospitalizations/ER visits. And they can connect you to community resources you need to live an inspired life.