Thursday, May 28, 2009

Where Are the Records?

“My grandmother kept her savings money interleaved between lingerie in a drawer. After a few hours, we found enough to pay for a meal service. I’m glad I remembered her mentioning that.”

“My mother is very organized. She showed us a file drawer in the den in which she had files for every investment, insurance policy and bank account. After she was hospitalized, my brothers and I found other things around the house, but we knew basically where everything was.”

“My dad has everything on the computer. Checking account, insurance records, he’s a real technology buff.”

We've been talking this week about gathering information on your parent's status and some tips for recording and storing that information. Part of what you need to know is where your parent keeps the household, financial and medical records.

Money. Insurance. Bank Accounts. Title for the House. Title for the Car. Investments. All important topics for a caregiver who may need to manage the finances as well as provide care for an aging parent. Touchy subjects. Emotional subjects. We live in a society where financial information is not readily shared. Your current salary is not going to come up around the office coffee pot or the holiday dinner table. And if you live miles away, time constraints and the desire just to “catch up” may push this topic to the back of the conversational closet. When preparing to care for your parent, social reticence and personal unease about finances put you at a disadvantage.

If you think that you might be your parent's caregiver in the near future, at the very least, KNOW WHERE THE RECORDS ARE KEPT.

Is the bank book in the old desk in Dad’s office? Does your mother keep a file cabinet in the basement for the insurance policies? Are all the credit card bills in a shoebox under the bathroom sink? Does your father keep stock certificates in folders under the mattress? Doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t know the details of your parent’s financial situation, you’ll be better able to care for your parent if you know where to look for important information.

What To Look For First
• Health insurance cards and plan descriptions
• Other insurance information: life, travel, accident
• Descriptions of current Medicare/Medicaid regulations and coverage
• Bank books, checking/savings/credit union account records
• Certificates of Deposit (CD’s)
• Social Security benefits papers
• Taxes
• Liabilities: the mortgage, credit cards, car payments
• Retirement benefits papers from employment (there may be two or three sets of records if your parent moved from one company to another)
• Investment accounts, stocks, bonds, property
• Safe Deposit Box keys and location of the box
• Locations of jewelry, heirlooms, boats and furniture
• The Will or Living Trust, Power of Attorney, Advance Medical Directives

• If your parent won’t tell you exactly where she keeps things, keep your eyes open while you visit. Her actions may give you some clue as to where to look.
• If your parent is reluctant to talk about finances, reassure her it’s for her welfare that you ask, not because you want to steal from her. You can’t blame your parent for being cautious. You’ve probably heard of children walking off with their parents’ assets. Planning care should be a partnership with your parent. Try to make it one.
• If your parent will not share with you, find out if she has shared any information with one of her friends, your siblings, a lawyer, a neighbor or her accountant. Perhaps she's entrusted someone else. Don’t fume about her lack of trust in you; be relieved that there will be someone you can ask if the need arises. Add that person to the Contact List.
• If your parent will not share with you and has not shared with anyone else, do a little reconnaissance on your own when you visit. Take a quick peek in:
  • Kitchen and bathroom cabinets
  • Any office area or desk
  • All closets; flip through clothes in drawers
  • Any storage area: attic, basement, shed, garage

Your purpose is to locate the records, not remove them. If your parent becomes incapacitated later, then you'll be better prepared to find the necessary paperwork.

If your parent can give you a "records tour", all the better. If not, be prepared to play detective. You'll be doing your parent--and yourself--a huge favor if you know where the records are.

Blessings on your caregiving today!

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