Don’t wait until the last moment to organize your affairs

When it comes to facing times of illness or crisis, much can be learned from the Boy Scouts of America. The Scout motto is “Be Prepared” and that is the appropriate spirit for organizing financial and medical affairs for yourself or a loved one. A devastating health or personal emergency can strike at any time, causing confusion and the need to make decisions quickly. Not knowing if documents exist or their location if they do exist can put strain on an already stressful situation. Having important financial and personal records in order can eliminate uncertainty and aid in determining options for you or a loved one. Following a few simple steps that are recommended by the National Institute on Aging can help with identifying important documents and keeping them ready for an emergency situation.

  1. Identify what are important documents to you. It’s a good idea to start with gathering personal, health and financial information, such as:
  • Full legal name
  • Social Security number
  • Legal residence
  • Date and place of birth
  • Names and addresses of spouse and children
  • Location of birth and death certificates and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship and adoption
  • Employers and dates of employment
  • Education and military records
  • Names and phone numbers of religious contacts
  • Memberships in groups and awards received
  • Names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, doctors, lawyers and financial advisors
  • Medications taken regularly (be sure to update this regularly)
  • Location of living will and other legal documents
  • Name and contact information for healthcare proxy
  • If applicable, information for funeral home arrangements including name and contact numbers

Financial documents can include:

  • Sources of income and assets (pension from your employer, IRAs, 401(k)s, interest, etc.)
  • Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid information
  • Insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, car) with policy numbers and agents’ names and phone numbers
  • Names of your banks and account numbers (checking, savings, credit union)
  • Investment income (stocks, bonds, property) and stockbrokers’ names and phone numbers
  • List of utilities and other monthly bills
  • Copy of most recent income tax return
  • Location of most up-to-date will with an original signature
  • Liabilities, including property tax— what is owed, to whom and when payments are due
  • Location of original deed of trust for home(s)
  • Car title and registration
  • Credit and debit card names and numbers
  • Location of safe deposit box and key
  • Put your documents and copies of important papers in one place. A file, drawer or binder can be helpful. If you decide to put the papers in a bank safe deposit box, keep copies in a file at home. You can also choose to keep important documents at home. It would be wise to purchase a box that is fireproof and waterproof to store them. If the box uses a key or a code, make sure that someone who can be trusted knows where to find the key or code to access it. Whether the documents are kept in a bank or at home, check each year to see if there’s anything new to add.
  • Tell a trusted family member or friend where your important documents are located. You don’t have to share the details of what is included, but someone should know where your information is in the event of an emergency. You can also ask a lawyer for help, if you have no one that you trust with your affairs.
  • Discuss your end-of-life preferences with your doctor. They can explain what health decisions you may have to make in the future and available treatment options. Making a living will can help you make your healthcare choices known if you become incapacitated or unable to communicate your wishes. Completing a durable power of attorney for healthcare names your healthcare proxy or the person able to make medical decisions for you. These documents make it easier for loved ones to make difficult healthcare decisions for you.
  • Give permission in advance for your doctor or lawyer to talk with your caregiver(s) as needed. There may be questions about your care, a bill or a health insurance claim. Without your consent, your caregiver may not be able to get needed information. You can provide permission in advance to Medicare, a credit card company, your bank or your doctor. You may need to sign and return a form.

No one can schedule a good time for a crisis to strike. The best a person can do is try to “Be Prepared” for the unthinkable. Organizing affairs for yourself or a loved one is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family. If you’re planning for long-term care, our friendly and helpful admissions staff will be glad to help you with questions about getting necessary documents in order.

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