Do You Have Your Papers?

     When my 75 year old mother was committed to a facility by the county, (see earlier blog posts for this story)  I had to literally sit in her home and wait for the mail in order to understand her finances after I was made her court appointed guardian.  I had no idea where her banking was done, or savings,  retirement accounts, credit card accounts or any other aspect of her financial life.   The most important documents she did have I was able to find in a paper bag in her bedroom.  These included  power of attorney for health care and power of attorney for finances as well as a will, which I am named executor of.

    Because she had the POA for finances in place I have been able to avoid making quarterly statements to the county regarding her finances. Yet I am the go between and accountable to Social Security and the Veteran’s Administration and responsible for paying all her bills each month.  I also needed to sell her house and empty it of her few belongings.  Every transaction that I make in her name I need to validate with a variety of documents that may  include my father’s death certificate, their marriage certificate, his discharge papers from the military, the guardianship papers appointing me as legal guardian from the county,  and the POA papers.  It took me hours and hours to close credit card accounts, get my name on her bank accounts listed as POA and complete other necessary transactions and sign ups. This was after I had to locate all those documents listed above, some of which necessitated requests by mail and trips to offices where these records are kept.  It all took and continues to take a great deal of time.

My advice to you, my friends, is do not put your loved ones through this. Keep the following records up to date and check to see if you have named beneficiaries on all your accounts. If you do not have a trusted family member or friend, hire a lawyer to keep this information safe.  But have it available in the case you are incapacitated.

Financial Records

  • Assets and sources of income- names/numbers of accounts and beneficiaries.
  • Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid information
  • All insurance information including home, life, car and health insurance
  • Tax return information
  • Legal will and Power of Attorney documents for healthcare and finances
  • List of monthly bills and debts- car payments, credit card payments, mortgage and insurance payments
  • Car title and registration
  • Location of  these important papers and contact information to access these

Wills and trusts  name the person you want your money and property to go to when you pass away.   Trusts can greatly shelter your assets from nursing home costs if they are set up correctly.

Advance directives let you make arrangements for your care if you become incapacitated.

  • A living will gives you a say in your health care if you are too ill to make your own decisions . In a living will, you can state what kind of life extending care you want, as well as the limits to this care.
  • A durable power of attorney for health care lets you name the person you want to make medical decisions for you if you are deemed incompetent. Make sure you get that person’s permission to act as your POA.
  • A durable power of attorney for finances let you name the person you want to handle your finances if you become incapacitated.

I have had all these documents personally set up for myself since some serious surgery in 2013.  I hired an attorney and it was quite expensive.  Since then I have explored LegalZoom as a way to get papers in order and wish I had known about this option at the time.  Click on the banner below to learn more about their important but reasonably priced products.




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