...with their exit strategy, that is. This is a good time for you to not only have a meeting with your parents, but also a perfect time to help them collect and organize their vital records, and legal documents. Do you know what their "end of life" wishes are?
Here are some simple checklists of important information you can help your parents and grandparents gather and organize:
Vital Records Short List:
• Social Security cards
• Adoption papers
• Marriage certificates
• Divorce degrees
• Death certificates
• Wills (including living wills)
• Advanced Directives
And if applicable:
• Powers of Attorney information
• Military discharge papers
• Debt settlement agreements (i.e. mortgage satisfaction letters).
If you are religious, you may also need:
• Sacrament certificates (Baptismal, Communion, Confirmation) for the purposes of marrying in the Church
• Ceremonial funeral arrangements and special rituals and rites that need to be followed.
How do you actually organize those records?
There are three approaches that we take with our clients. It is important to choose the one where you are the most comfortable retrieving the information again.
1. Put all information into one central folder, label it “vital records” and put the date on the outside of the folder. Put the folder in an easy place for you and household/family members to find.
2. Create folders for each vital record and place all folders together in a filing cabinet in the same area of the drawer, clearly marked.
3. Use a handy “piling tool” called the Pendaflex PileSmart. Each tab can be labeled with the vital record title, making it easier to find the document that needs to be located.
4. Make sure your Power of Attorney also knows were all of these documents are.
Where should you keep your vital records?
I usually tell my clients to keep them “somewhere safe” since this is a place that only you can define. You can keep your vital records in:
• a combination safe in your home (the kind that are recessed in a wall or the kind that are too heavy for a potential thief to haul out)
• a safety deposit box in a bank
• a locked filing cabinet in a locked office of your home (information behind two locks is best)
• a freezer bag in your freezer (this is a fireproof box of sorts)
• scanned originals in an encrypted cloud account AND on external hard drive stored in a locked vault or safe.
Doing this exercise with your parents may even act as a very gentle reminder to gather and store your own critical information. If you are considering giving this thoughtful gift of information to your own children before you live into the next decade, you can use a spreadsheet to fill in the vital record name and location or complete an easy-to-use workbook, like “Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To”, by Melanie Cullen.