BOSTON (CBS) – I know our listeners have heard it before but life is so much easier once you have all of the paperwork organized! Less stress! And the bonus is if you need to help mom from a distance it will be so much easier!

Just opening the mail and organizing bills for an older person can become overwhelming. If they live nearby, ask them if they would like to start with you opening the mail and writing out the checks. They will sign the checks but you will balance the checkbook and take care of the paperwork for them. Emphasize that they are still in control. You are just the bookkeeper. If they live far away, consider hiring someone to help them.

Next, offer to organize the paper stuff. Go through it with them, yes I know it will be time consuming but they need to be part of the process. Put on their favorite music (even if it is Frank Sinatra!) as background and work on this together. Use humor here if you find tax returns from the 80s and 90s.

Don’t just dump stuff! Spend the time to evaluate what you do find. My brother-in-law found cash stashed everywhere when he offered to help.

Hopefully there is a filing cabinet, if not pick up a couple of crate-a-files at the stationary store. Set up a filing system that mom can access easily and print out any labels in large block letters so she can read them.

Now start to collect the stuff from the various places that mom has stashed them. Does she have a safety deposit box? Whose name is on it? Ask if you can go with her and take inventory of the contents? Ask about adding your name to the box?

Start making lists, lots of lists. Make sure you leave a copy for mom and you should have a copy as well.

  • Professional/Personal directory – basically her data base
  • Social Security number
  • Investments with account numbers
  • Pin numbers
  • Inventory of the safety deposit box
  • Important papers and where they can be located such as birth certificates, marriage license, deeds, titles to the cars
  • Insurance policies
  • Regular monthly bills such as the telephone, electric, gas, rent.
  • Credit cards numbers and the balances if any
  • Tax returns for the last 6 years
  • Estate planning documents
  • Prescriptions she is taking and why; check for drug interactions
  • Inventory of the home’s contents

Helping her get organized will ease some of her stress and will help you when the time comes that you may need to be more involved with her finances.

Head to my website and print out a copy of the Document Locator and fill it out. Keep a copy for you and give a copy to mom.

One more thing:

AARP, the magazine of the American Association of Retired Persons, recently published a list of essential documents that we all should have in regard to our personal health history.

They included:

  • Emergency contacts, including phone numbers and email addresses
  • Physician contacts, including specialists and dentists
  • Health insurance information
  • Health Care Proxy
  • Organ-donor authorization, if any
  • Current medications and dosages
  • Significant illnesses and surgeries, with dates
  • Immunizations and their dates
  • Allergies, or other sensitivities
  • Results from most recent physical
  • Test results and eye and dental records
  • Family health history
  • Opinions of specialists
  • Correspondence with providers

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