Dear Dr. CC,
I hoped you would write about what papers people need to have ready if they die or can’t handle their own affairs. I will be the one providing care for my parents who are in their 80’s and in pretty good shape but I see the signs that they are slipping. I am afraid to wait until times get hard for them to get this done. I know about a will but what else is important? I subscribe to your blog, Elder Care Advice, and have not seen this yet addressed. Thank you.
Elizabeth W., Elkhart, Illinois, USA
First, congratulations are due you, Elizabeth, for getting in front of your upcoming duties before they become more difficult to control. Not everyone is clever or fortunate enough to get affairs in order prior to need due to incapacity or death.
The original Will is vitally important, as it not only identifies the heirs but also names the Executor/Executrix. Depending on what assets are owned at the time of death, you may need to probate the Will to be recognized by others (like banks) as the Executor.
In addition to a Will, there are 11 other documents you should have handy no matter where you live in the United States.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is a legal document that authorizes someone to act for you. A power of attorney can be broad or limited. The person holding the DPoA acts as an agent who do such things as sign checks and tax returns, enter into contracts, buy or sell real estate, deposit or withdraw funds, run a business, or anything else you do for yourself. Since the power-of-attorney document is tailored for its specific purpose, your agent cannot act outside the scope designated in the document. A regular power of attorney ends when its purpose is fulfilled or at your incapacity or death. A durable power of attorney ends at your death.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA) names someone who stands in your shoes and tells the doctors what to do or what not do for you. Health care decisions include the power to consent, refuse consent or withdraw consent to any type of medical care, treatment, service or procedure. A HCPOA is also called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, Health Care Proxy, or Medical Power of Attorney.
A living will is a legal document that specifies the type of medical care that an individual does or does not want in the event that he is unable to communicate his wishes.
Doctors and hospitals consult living wills to determine whether or not the patient wants life-sustaining treatment, such as assisted breathing or tube feeding. In the absence of a living will, decisions about medical care become the responsibility of the spouse, family members or other third parties.
Pre-arranged or pre-paid funeral contracts
Ask for any pre-arranged or pre-paid funeral contracts. There may also be a legal document called Appointment of Agent for Disposition of Remains, in which he gives binding funeral instructions and names a specific person to be in charge of the arrangements. Perhaps he desired cremation; if so, ask about membership in groups like The Neptune Society or The Memorial Society.
Retirement Account Numbers and Papers
Get the Social Security cards, or at least the numbers, for each of your parents. Also, contact the Office of Personnel Management if either is retired from Civil Service and contact DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting Service) if either is receiving a military retirement. You might need the military DD214 discharge papers, too.
Life insurance policies
Locate any life insurance policies and any annuity policies they owned.
Titles to any real estate and/or vehicles
If they own real estate, the deed will indicate if it was owned jointly with anyone else. The deed may also show whether there are any rights of survivorship associated with the property. It is also possible that he established a Living Trust. If so, find the Trust and find any deed under which they transferred title to the trust.
Look for Trusts and determine if either of your parents is the Trustee, and to see who is appointed as successor Trustee, then contact those people to provide them with copies. Trusts can take many forms these days such as a Charitable Trust, a Gun Trust or a Pet Trust.
Statements to bank and brokerage accounts
Regarding finances, make a list of bank and brokerage accounts. Find the last 12 months of statements if you can. Search for tax returns from the last several years.
List of Internet Passwords
Compile or locate a list of passwords they use for online banking or online brokerages, and to be able to access their email accounts.
List of Important Contacts
Important contacts include (but are not limited to) Physicians, Lawyer, Accountant, Stock Broker, close friends, religious leader, fraternal or professional membership organization contacts, friendly neighbors, social worker, Home Care or Home Health Care Agency, Insurance Agent, etc.
What to do Next
Get these 12 documents together, make copies, and give the originals/copies to the people that will need them. Whoever has been designated the DPoA needs an original of that document. Another trusted relative or an Attorney are the obvious first choices for securing copies or originals where they can be easily accessed when the time comes. Keep a set for yourself, too.
Since you know in advance that you will be providing care for your frail parents now is also the best time to get yourself ready for the enormous task of elder care by getting your caregiver education and certification. Doing so now will be one less thing you need to do later, gain you much more respect from others you will have to deal with, and get you better prepared for what is to come. Go to CertifiedCare.org for comprehensive convenient programs.