As part of this commitment to us, I spent the last few days creating a FREE downloadable must-have IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS CHECKLIST. What is it and why do I need it? We all have lists of doctors, medications, allergies, bills, documents that we should have in one file but oftentimes it is scattered in a million different places and we are the only ones with the knowledge of where all those documents, passwords, etc are. In the event of any emergency, there should be at least ONE OTHER PERSON who knows this information or knows where to get the information. If you are an adult, are or will be responsible for your parents or loved one some day, have a bank account, or any assets whatsoever, I highly recommend you fill it out for yourself and/or your loved one(s). Print it out and put it in a safe, secure place and let someone else (preferably your emergency contact) know where that safe, secure place is. It’s not going to a super fun to fill out and most of you will think it is a good idea but never actually fill it out, putting it off to when you have ‘more free time.’ Let’s be honest—you’ll never have ‘more free time.’ I hope you will defy my prediction because I wish I had something like this when our mother had her stroke. As Mom woke from her coma in the ICU, her first words were “pay mortgage.” It was at that moment that we realized we had no idea about how and what bills she paid, where she placed all her important documents…nothing. We had to put all the pieces together like a detective and when your mother is laying in ICU, it’s the last thing on your mind. But we also couldn’t continue to ignore it because it was better to deal with it before it would become a bigger problem. We knew life had changed from what we knew it to be and there was no going back.
We tend to put off things like this because in the back of our minds we hope that we will never have to face such tragedies. But the reality is, ignoring it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We can’t predict the future so if we put some things in place, we can reduce the stress later on. Believe me – it took us weeks to figure out how to pay for Mom’s bills…time that could have been spent doing more important things.
Life is complicated and messy. Paying for life is even more complicated and messy. I admit the document is long and can look intimidating, but it is well organized and once you fill it out, it will alleviate A LOT of stress! And who doesn’t like less stress? Sit down with your partner, spouse, parent, loved one and get as much information as you can. You don’t need to fill out every line but at least get the major information in the event of an emergency. Fill one out for yourself. I made it into a fillable PDF to make it easier. Don’t forget to print it out and put it in a safe, secure location and tell at least one other human being of its location. Along with the Important Documents Checklist, at minimum you should also have the following documents in the folder:
Durable Power of Attorney
DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)
Trust Documents (if applicable)
Life Insurance policy
Loan Agreements (if any)
Homeowner’s insurance policy, deed, mortgage statements
Tax records (at least last 5 years in case you need to apply for Medicaid – more on this later)
Dealing with ICU, hospitals, doctors, specialists, nurses, social workers can be daunting. You are expected to make critical life decisions when you are often in a state of emotional shock and grief. One of the first questions you will be asked is whether you or your loved one has a DNR (“do not resuscitate”), a living will, healthcare proxy or a durable power of attorney. If you or your loved one is in critical condition, then a DNR will come into play – a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order mandates that you do not want to be kept alive solely with the assistance of machines. The hospital is legally obligated to keep you alive by all means necessary, so if you or your loved one feels strongly about not being hooked up to machines to be kept alive then make sure you or s/he signs a DNR. A living will details what kind of care you or your loved one desires if you or s/he cannot communicate those needs because of the illness or accident. A healthcare proxy states who will be responsible to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to make them yourself. A durable power of attorney is a similar document but includes other decision making responsibilities (bank accounts, investments, bills, etc). Thankfully, my mother had these documents and we knew how she wanted her wishes carried out.
If you haven’t had this conversation with your parents or loved one, DO NOT put this off any longer. You can easily get the documents from www.legalzoom.com or other websites if you can’t afford a lawyer. These documents are basic and critical in the event anything should happen. You want to be able to fulfill their wishes but you can’t if you don’t have the conversation to begin with. Hopefully you will not need to access it anytime soon.
Yes, the Important Documents Checklist is 10 pages long and it could probably be longer but imagine having to know all this information while you are in the emergency room at a hospital. The doctor will ask you many health/medical questions and having the document will allow you or your loved one get better and/or quicker treatment. You also don’t want to have to deal with these details when you are emotionally distraught.
IF YOUR PARENT(S)/LOVED ONE IS/ARE OVER 65, YOU SHOULD CONSIDER (IF THEY ARE AMENABLE)
becoming a co-signer on their financial accounts. This is MUCH easier than having to present the power of attorney form to each institution. Then their accounts can be looked after and their bills paid without much interruption. After Mom had her stroke I had the foresight to become a co-signer on Dad’s bank account so when he got sick, it was seamless for me to pay his bills.
Begin to distribute assets to the children/beneficiaries to avoid the 5 year look back (in the event you need to apply for Medicaid…more on the 5 year look back in the future). The look back clock is critical. A look back means that Medicaid can ‘look back’ 5 years into you or your loved one(s) assets and apply them to their medical care. If the asset is out of their name for over 5 years then it is untouchable. We have all heard stories of people going bankrupt because of a medical problem…this is part of the reason why. There are strategies to save your assets. An eldercare lawyer will be able to help. If your parent(s)/loved one are still active and they don’t feel comfortable giving away their assets then it can be placed into a trust. But definitely do this with the guidance of an eldercare lawyer.
I also recommend getting a password app (I use 1pass and love it, but there are a lot of different ones out there) to help keep your user names and passwords organized in order. It’s great because then you can access them when you need it. Create different accounts if you want to store your parent(s)/loved ones info.
Remember this checklist is not just for the elderly. If you are an adult with responsibilities then you should fill it out too. It’s free, so what are you waiting for? A debilitating accident or illness can strike at any time regardless of age. I don’t mean to sound like a Debbie downer but it’s a reality of life. So if we face it head-on, get organized, communicate with our loved ones, then we can get back to the business of creating a fulfilling life for ourselves and our loved ones. For 2017, let’s get organized, healthy and happy!