May 4, 2020

Helping a senior loved one get their most important documents and paperwork organized is a crucial way to make things easier in the future — and it’s a helpful step that you and your family can take right now. 

At the time we’re writing this, the novel coronavirus COVID-19 continues to impact daily life here in Chicago and around the world. For many people, the spread of coronavirus has been a wake-up call, and an important reminder about planning for whatever the future may bring. This has led to a big rush for estate planning services, as people of all ages create or update their wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other key legal documents. 

For seniors, it’s important to consider not only these estate planning documents, but other key records about their health and finances. These “important papers,” as the National Institute on Aging (NIA) describes them, are absolutely crucial to have on hand — in both good times and bad. 

In a difficult moment, having a senior’s records updated and organized can make it easier for everyone to get on the same page, while helping your loved one the care they need, just when they need it. Down the line, having all of this important paperwork in order can make it easier for families to make decisions and move into the future with confidence, peace of mind, and clarity. 

So, what important papers should you and your loved one discuss? What records and information should seniors have on hand, and what’s the best way to share information between family members, caregivers, and healthcare professionals? 

Let’s explore some important documents that seniors should have on hand, as well as what you can do to help your senior loved one keep everything in order.

Important Papers for Seniors: Building Your Family’s Checklist

As the NIA puts it, the answer for what constitutes an important paper “may be different for every family.” As a starting place, here are some common categories and crucial documents to discuss with your senior loved ones: 

Identifying Information and Personal Documents

Whether applying for benefits, making payments, or updating other important paperwork and records, it’s important for you and your loved one to be able to access their personal information. Here’s a list of documents that may prove important to have on hand, on a daily basis: 

Financial Documents

For retirees, growing older can come with many important financial decisions — including some that may need to be made efficiently and swiftly. Helping your loved one collect, review, and protect their financial documents can make it easier for them to access essential care and live independently. 

Some important paperwork, records, and effects to consider include: 

  • Banking information (including personal accounts and safety deposit boxes)
  • Insurance information (health, life, home, auto, long-term care, etc.)
  • Credit and debit card information
  • Vehicle title and registration
  • Tax returns and records
  • Deeds and title documents for any real estate owned by the senior
  • Account information for pensions, retirement accounts, and annuities
  • Information about investments (including stocks, bonds, securities, or brokerage accounts)
  • A record of liabilities owed by the senior (including known liens and debts)

Healthcare and Insurance Documents

As a family caregiver, one of your number one priorities is most likely making sure that your senior loved ones are able to remain healthy and secure. 

In order to ensure that your loved one is able to get the care they need at a moment’s notice, it’s crucial to have their health and insurance information organized and accessible. This includes up-to-date account information, as well as an overview of your loved one’s medical history.

  • Current list of medications the senior is taking (including over-the-counter drugs and supplements)
  • Personal medical history 
  • Contact information for primary care doctor; specialists; pharmacy; etc. 
  • Medicare/Medicaid information and paperwork
  • Long-term care insurance policy and information
  • Power of attorney for healthcare 
  • HIPAA release (this provides authorization to share a patient’s health information to relevant parties)

Estate Planning Documents

While no one likes thinking about their end-of-life needs, having a plan ready to go can make this difficult transition easier for your friends and family. It’s incredibly important for seniors to have estate planning documents in place, and to keep their plan updated over time — while also sharing the necessary details with the loved ones and professionals who will help execute their plans and administer their estate. 

Some important estate planning pieces to review, address, and have on hand include: 

  • Will (a legal document that expresses a person’s wishes as to how their property is to be distributed, and names an executor in order to oversee the distribution process)
  • Living will/advanced directive (a legal document outlining your wishes for how you want to receive medical treatment in case you are ever incapacitated or otherwise unable to give consent)
  • Durable powers of attorney for healthcare and finances (these mechanisms provide a way for you to name the person or people who will be allowed to make health and property decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated)
  • Trust documents and records (a trust is a legal agreement wherein a person with assets allows another person or institution to hold those assets, and manage or distribute them for a recipient)
  • Funeral and burial requests (also known as end-of-life instructions, these forms can dictate your wishes for your funeral, memorial, and burial, and make financial arrangements to cover these costs)
  • Beneficiary designations for financial accounts
  • Life insurance policy information

Collecting, Organizing, and Sharing Information and Paperwork

Looking to help the senior in your life get their affairs in order? The NIA has some useful tips for streamlining this important process: 

  • Keep important papers and copies of legal documents in one place — and tell a trusted family member. You can set up a file in a cabinet, or put everything in a desk or dresser drawer. If you keep information in multiple places, be sure to keep the locations tracked in a notebook or ledger. If your information is in a lockbox or stored at a bank, keep copies on file and make sure that your loved ones will be able to gain access when they need it. Keep at least one family member or trusted professional (such as an attorney) informed about where you’re storing your estate planning documents and records, so they can find them in an emergency. 
  • Bring on help where you can. Dealing with this mountain of paperwork can feel daunting. Fortunately, you don’t need to go through it all alone. In addition to working with a close family member, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you prepare, organize, and update your documents. The NIA also recommends discussing these matters with a doctor, who can help you understand “what health decisions you may have to make in the future and what treatment options are available.”
  • Start discussions early and review plans regularly. Having to deal with all of these moving parts can make a difficult time feel even tougher. Instead of waiting, start discussions early, when everyone can come together and help make calm, informed decisions. On an ongoing basis, be sure to regularly review and revise all documents that communicate your healthcare, financial management, and end of life wishes, to account for any changes to your health or family circumstances. 

The Importance of Planning for Long-Term Care

Just as it’s important to think about your loved one’s health and finances, it’s also crucial to look to the future, and have a plan in place for helping your senior loved one age in place comfortably, safely, and independently. 

According to recent estimates, about 70 percent of those 65 or older can expect to use long-term care at some point — and yet, fewer than 30 percent of adults have had a conversation about long-term care planning. 

For many families, home care is going to be an important topic to discuss. This flexible, affordable, and convenient type of care can help empower older adults to live life to the fullest, while allowing family caregivers to rest, recharge, and refocus. 

Want to talk about any aspect of aging in place for seniors, including in-home care? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Companions for Seniors! 

Here at Companions for Seniors, our mission is to empower seniors to live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own homes by helping them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships. Our companions are trained and insured, and our team can help your family to develop and implement a personalized care plan that can allow seniors to enjoy a higher quality of life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Have any questions? Looking for a Chicago home care resource? Ready to start thinking seriously about long-term care? We are here for you. Give us a call at 866-910-9020 or get in touch online to get the conversation started.