Organizing, reviewing important documents


June marks the first month of hurricane season and it is a good time to update not only physical preparations for potential natural disasters but also review and revise important documents so that regardless of extreme weather, injury, illness or other stressful event, those closest to you have the tools to support you.

Consider the following steps and identify one task you will take on this week or this month.

Step 1: Identify important documents and gather them together.

The storage location of important documents may be a file or notebook in a drawer or cabinet. If some documents are in a safe deposit box, make a copy and place it with the other documents. Documents may include:

• Personal records and information. These include but are not limited to legal name, legal residence, social security number, date and place of birth, names and addresses of immediate family members, birth certificates, adoption papers, marriage records, employment information, military and education records, health and medication records, and contact information of all your health care, financial and legal professionals.

• Financial documents. These include but are not limited to banking information, investment accounts, Social Security and Medicare information, insurance information, recent tax returns, mortgages, loans, credit and debit card information, deeds, car titles and safe deposit box information and key.

• Legal documents. Examples of important legal documents include wills, trusts, estates, advance directives for health care and power of attorney. If you do not have one or more of these, consider meeting with a legal professional to put these documents in order. Many lawyers offer a free or reduced rate for the initial consultation and it is important to discuss ongoing fees before that first appointment.

Step 2: Select a trusted family member or friend to know where and how to access the documents if necessary.

Personal preference will guide how much access this person has to the documents. Some choose to give a copy of all documents to the trusted individual. Others prefer to maintain more privacy and opt to only share the location of the documents. If there is no one you trust, consider utilizing a financial and/or legal professional to help with this step.

Step 3: Give consent to your doctors and lawyer to speak with your caregiver if necessary.

Health care professionals and attorneys are required to maintain patient and client confidentiality. They cannot discuss health status or legal situation with anyone except the patient/client without written consent. This consent may be as simple as authorization form or may require a notarized document. Complete and return this document to be kept in your file.

Additional resources

This article offers a small taste of the information from the Extension Foundation, National Institute on Aging and the University of Hawaii Elder Law Program. To learn more, visit the websites, and then take action.

• Financial Security for All: Organize Your Important Household Papers, Extension Foundation, http://go.hawaii.edu/xeA.

• Advance Care Planning: Getting Your Affairs in Order, National Institute on Aging, http://go.hawaii.edu/3ex.

• Deciding to Navigate Elder Care Handbook, University of Hawaii Elder Law Program, http://go.hawaii.edu/xeJ.

• Deciding What to Do and Why Not Now Handbook, University of Hawaii Elder Law Program, http://go.hawaii.edu/Pex.

* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Saturday of each month.


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