The Case of the Missing Documents

stack of documents and magnifying glass

It’s tax time and the rush is on to submit the myriad documents necessary for tax filings. This can be a stressful enough time for even the most organized among us, but it is without doubt a time of high anxiety for seniors with cognitive impairments and their families. One of the chief concerns is locating the appropriate files when you need them, since those with executive functioning impairments will have poor organization and filing skills. Once the hunt is over, these documents need to be reviewed, acted upon (as in the case of tax filings) and then safely stored to be easily retrieved.

This is why tax time is a terrific opportunity to help seniors set up a system for storing and retrieving all their important documents. As an Aging Life Care Professional®, I actively review all key documents during an intake assessment, including advance directives and designated power of attorney forms. Additionally, I screen clients for their ability to manage their household and financial affairs. Based on my findings, I make referrals as appropriate and recommendations on best practices.

Here are some tips to solve “The Case of the Missing Documents” so that next year all will be in order.

  1. Make a checklist of all important documents to be stored – these might include:
  • birth certificate
  • marriage certificate
  • death certificate (for deceased spouse)
  • divorce papers
  • military records
  • driver’s license/organ donor card
  • passport/citizen papers
  • will
  • living will
  • durable power of attorney
  • health care proxy
  • MOLST or POLST (medical orders for life sustaining treatments)
  • trust
  • letter of instruction — with funeral arrangements, important contact information such as insurance agent or broker.
  • insurance policies (life, disability, long-term care)
  • past tax returns for the past five years
  • financial statements (banking, investments, annual credit card reports)
  • information about safety deposit boxes (e.g., location, number, key)

2. Once you’ve figured out where all these important papers are located, it is wise to sit down as a family to review all the documents and determine a safe and accessible storage location such as a secure file cabinet. Relevant copies should be made for the person designated as a health care proxy and/or power of attorney and consideration should be given to whether it may be appropriate to copy the files onto a thumb drive or be stored securely in the cloud for easy access.

3. This is also an ideal opportunity to review whether the senior loved one has been a victim of financial scams. Reviewing credit card statements and checking accounts and paying particular attention to charitable donations is usually revealing. If suspicious activities are discovered, discuss the need for assistance and oversight with financial management activities to prevent ongoing financial fraud. This may include setting up automatic bill paying services, transitioning to a secure debit card that tracks expenditures and sets limits on purchases. If the senior and/or their family need assistance, I refer them to a qualified professional daily money manager or in-home administrator who can consult and assist with setting up sound financial systems giving everybody peace of mind.

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Written by Anne Sansevero

Categories: Caregiving