Managing legal documentation for your aging parents could prove to be a challenging task. Perhaps they are reluctant to share this kind of information with you. Or maybe you’re too busy or timid to approach your parents about the topic. Either way, it's something that often gets procrastinated until it’s too late.
Waiting until your senior parents have experienced a life-changing medical incident or start showing signs of dementia is not the time to start gathering together their most important legal documents. The best time to start doing this is now.
If your loved ones or elderly relatives are still mentally active but getting older or have even moved into an assisted living facility, then you’ll want to start collecting copies of all their important documents before things take a turn. In this guide, we’ll give you a checklist of everything you should consider when organizing legal documents for aging parents and why it will be important in the future.
Documents for Aging Parents Checklist
Your legal checklist for seniors should include:
- Advance Medical Directive (also known as a living will)
- Durable Medical Power of Attorney (health care proxy)
- Durable Power of Attorney for financial decisions
- HIPAA release form for all physicians
- A current, updated will, estate plan, or a trust
- End of life instructions (caregiver instructions, hospice wishes, DNR, organ donation, funeral wishes, cemetery plot deeds)
- Birth certificates
- Deeds to the home
- Bank account information
- Stocks, bonds, and brokerage information
- Insurance policies
- Veteran’s discharge papers
- Death certificate of spouse, if applicable
- Divorce decrees
- Citizenship papers
- Pension benefits, 401(k), annuity names, and contact information
- Debt documentation, including information for credit cards, loans, purchase contracts, rental agreements
- Vehicle titles
A Breakdown of Leal Documents for Aging Parents
- Advance medical directive. Instructions that are designed to outline your parent’s last wishes for medical treatments. It can include such things as which medical treatments they would (or would not) like to have performed or if they should be placed on life support. This document is also sometimes known as a living will.
- Durable medical power of attorney. This lets you make critical decisions about your loved ones’ health care in case they are not able to make those decisions themselves. This can be especially helpful if you are caring for someone with dementia.
- Health care proxy. Similar to a durable medical power of attorney, but it enables the person who is making the decisions to not be responsible for paying for health care.
- HIPAA release form. Allows your senior parents’ medical information to be released to you. This document can be especially important if you’ve taken on the role of becoming their primary caregiver and travel with your parents to medical appointments. Be sure to make copies for each of their physicians.
In case your parents don’t already have some of these documents, be sure to work with a professional elder law attorney to create them.
Estate Planning and End-of-Life Documents
- Will. Details your parents' wishes for the distribution of their property and financial assets to certain beneficiaries. Wills can be created independently, online, or professionally with an estate planning elder law attorney.
- Trust. Creates a legal entity that will hold your parents’ assets upon death. The third-party trustee will then distribute these assets to the beneficiaries and loved ones as laid out in the instructions of the trust. The most common type will be a revocable living trust. Click here to learn more about different types of trusts.
- End of life instructions. A comprehensive list of your parents’ last wishes that goes beyond an advance medical directive. It will consist of specific directions for things like caregiver instructions, hospice wishes, long term care, DNR (do not resuscitate), organ donation, funeral wishes, and cemetery plot deeds.
Again, if your aging parents don’t already have some of these documents, contact an elder law attorney for legal advice.
- Bank Accounts. Statements from the past 6 to 12 months for all bank savings and checking accounts.
- Brokerage accounts. Statements from the past 6 to 12 months detailing all of your parents' finances for holdings of stocks, mutual funds, and other securities.
- Retirement accounts. Statements containing any information about the status of company pensions, 401(k) plans, or IRAs.
- Income tax filings. The past 2 years Federal and State income tax returns. If your parents work with a tax professional, then you’ll also want their contact information.
- Annuities. If your parents have annuities, you’ll want to make sure you have copies of the contract.
- Outstanding debts. Statements for all applicable balances owed including credit cards, mortgages, loans, purchase contracts, rental agreements, etc.
- Durable power of attorney for financial decisions. Similar to a medical power of attorney, this document dictates who should take care of your senior parents’ finances if they were no longer able to do so. Again, this can be very helpful if you need to make critical decisions about your parents’ finances.
- Insurance policies. Copies of all your parent’s current, active insurance policies. This should include contracts for home, auto, and life. Remember that some permanent life insurance policies also carry a cash value.
- Property deeds. Establishes ownership of the primary residence or other properties (such as vacation homes or rental properties).
- Vehicle titles. Proves ownership of their vehicles.
- Veteran’s discharge papers. Military records that may entitle your parents to special medical care or treatment.
- Birth certificates. Validates the date and location of birth as well as the parents.
- Death certificate. If applicable for a deceased spouse.
- Divorce decrees. If one or both of your parents were divorced.
- Citizenship papers. If your parents were granted citizenship after having arrived from another country.
How Do I Organize My Elderly Parents Papers?
Collecting and maintaining each of these documents for your elderly parents can be quite an overwhelming process. This can get even more complicated if you need to make periodic updates or share this information with multiple people (such as other family members).
This is where the Pillar Life app can be helpful. Pillar was designed to organize all of your documentation into one safe, central location. Everything gets collected and categorized so that it can be retrieved in a manner of seconds. Click here to try Pillar free for 14 days.