Your parents took care of you from childhood to adulthood. Now it’s your turn to help them gather, organize and safely store all of their important documents. After all, “never” happens all the time –– as State Farm’s tagline points out –– and isn’t that the truth?
Emergencies happen in everyone’s life, but being prepared for an unexpected event beforehand can help ease a stressful situation. It’s imperative children of aging parents help organize and store these important documents now so they’re readily available to anyone who needs access, such as doctors, advanced directive agents, durable power of attorneys, attorneys, accountants and wealth managers.
The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it.
-Dr. Samuel Johnson
How true! If your parents are resistant to discussing their finances with you, acknowledge their fears. Then explain that knowing where to find this information is vital in getting them the help they need if a crisis occurs. These documents include:
- Real estate
The best plan of action requires sitting down with your parents and creating an important documents checklist. Tips and resources for gathering, organizing and storing these documents are available in my booklet, No Time Like Now, a Guide to Organizing Your Life’s Traditional and Digital Information. In addition, you can download a copy of our Bereavement Checklist.
Next, set aside a few hours with your parents to locate and start gathering those documents. Be prepared to wade through boxes of paperwork, as your parents may have saved every bank statement and utility bill they’ve received over the decades.
TIP: Plan to gather documents over several short sessions so your parents don’t get weary of the whole process.
Documents, such as social security cards and original birth certificates, need to be kept in a secure location, such as a fireproof safe or filing cabinet or in a safe deposit box. It is also important to have original documentation.
Using the latest technology is a good way to safeguard your aging parents’ important information. Storage options include:
- In the cloud, using sites such as Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud
- On the web, at sites such as Everplans and PasswordBox
- Hard drive stored locally on a computer
- External hard drive
Mint.com and Quicken are excellent tools for organizing your parents’ personal finances on an ongoing basis. Read my article for more tips on using Mint.
TIP: Check with your local alarm/locksmith company to see if they sell and install fireproof and water-resistant safes. For added protection, you might want them connect the safe to your home alarm system.
The Purging Process
Maintaining important documents is an ongoing process. Once you’ve created a system for organizing and storing your parents’ documents, it’s imperative to check the system every three months to ensure there isn’t a system breakdown. If your parents are not computer savvy, you may need to carry the mantel, rely on a trusted friend or family member or hire a Daily Money Manager to perform these tedious, yet necessary tasks.
Plan to help your parents purge those boxes of old and unnecessary documents. For instance, you can get rid of statements for which they do not have accounts anymore, such as old bank statements from financial institutions that no longer exist, tax returns from 1960 to date and mortgage documents they no longer need. Using a shredder to get rid of the documents can be a safe way to handle this project.
TIP: If you have way too many documents to shred, call a mobile shredding company to come to your home or apartment and shred your personal documents onsite. Check with your local municipality to see if they offer free document shredding for residents.
Once you finish gathering and organizing your parents’ important documents, I hope you enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve taken care of this important task and are better prepared for life’s unexpected.