I seem to be seeing a pattern of sorts when working with families over the past couple of years. Whether it is the spouse or adult children, the pattern has been a lack of knowledge regarding financial matters, locations of and access to important documents and basic information needed to carry on once a loved one is no longer able to assist.
Sometimes it is because the family member thought everything was in order. Other times it could be that the family member didn’t want to be intrusive into “private” matters. Or they thought there would be more time to deal with things.
In today’s world, so many of us use computers for everything from paying bills to storing documents. But in many cases, there is a spouse or family member who isn’t as up-to-date on computer technology as the other one is. This could become a real issue if the computer-savvy person is no longer able to handle the household affairs.
Once you notice a decline in health or cognitive ability or if a loved one has received a diagnosis of a devastating medical condition, it is time to get the wheels in motion to ensure that all is in order for the other spouse (or family member) to understand and maintain the household and finances.
A comment made to me by a family member that I had worked with was, “I wish I would have had more candid conversations with my spouse while he was alive about our money — and his wishes. It would have made the last nine months since his diagnosis so much easier on myself and our children.”
I realize that it is hard to think about loved ones dying or having a medical condition that renders them unable to carry on as they used to. But if you stop and think about it, it is just as hard — if not harder — for a spouse or other family member to pick up where they left off without the knowledge and necessary documentation to do so. Be kind to yourself and start planning now.
Do not expect everything to be in order in your loved one’s life. Be proactive and ask where things are and what their wishes are. Get organized. Get your documents together. Start collecting important documents in a common, known place such as a loose-leaf notebook with plastic sleeves that includes a copy of each other’s wills (including living wills), power of attorney, military documents, bank and other investment account numbers, insurance policies, contact information, any other pertinent financial information, etc. The notebook format allows for easy updating on a regular basis as things change.
Keep duplicates of all documents in an alternate location in case of a natural disaster.
Get all necessary military documents to prove military service and continued benefits, regardless of when the service occurred. Separate all documents and label them for an easy find into categories for civilian, government, legal and military needs.
Make a list of all offices to visit and/or call: probate court, legal offices, funeral home, national cemetery, IRS, banks, loan companies, stock investments, Social Security office, state or county property office, school tax office, IRA, health and life insurance companies, Department of Motor Vehicles, vehicle insurance, credit unions, hospice, hospitals, Veterans Administration offices and military records branch, casualty office and the family readiness group of assigned unit (if there is one in your area).
Draft a notification list with addresses and phone numbers of all family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, debtors, credit cards, loan agencies, insurance. Learn about possible Social Security benefits. With all the rules and regulations surrounding benefits and time frames that must be followed, it is suggested that you start exploring options early on in the process to help with an easier transition when the time comes.
What about health benefits? If your loved one was the primary on a private health insurance, will you still be covered? Will you need to make changes to the policy?
Don’t forget about possible employee benefits — even if the loved one has been retired for some time.
Be sure to do regular backups of all your data in the event your computer decides that it has had enough and crashes. Create a document with pertinent information such as the names of the websites and the URL’s (Uniform Resource Locator — typically starts with http:/ or www.) for those places you access for banking, bill paying, important information, etc.; your user name and passwords for each of the sites; account numbers for those sites; and any other information to help assist your loved one.
It also is a good idea to have a printout of that information in a safe place that is known to your family member(s).
Just having the information available is not enough. Does your loved one have the computer knowledge to be able to access what is needed? If not, start the training process now, including step-by step instructions if necessary.
If that is not feasible, be sure to have alternate methods of handling those financial matters, etc.
One of the things that I came across while surfing the Internet one night was an absolutely wonderful document that I found to be invaluable. It is put out by a company called AGIS (AssistGuide Information Services). It is 12 pages of fill-in-the-blanks that covers just about everything. Here is the link to the website and document: http://www.agis.com/document/37/.
For more information and resource assistance, e-mail Pam Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 683-7047. Scott is the community relations director for Discovery Memory Care in Sequim.
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