Where are your loved ones’ important papers?

When things are going well, we don’t think about the need to know where our loved ones’ important papers are located.

by David Mitchell — 

Your husband, who has always been healthy, has been admitted to the hospital. The doctors tell you he has suffered a severe stroke and it does not look good. Would you know where to find his healthcare power of attorney or his will? What about your family members who are older? Do you know where your mother’s birth certificate or your father’s life insurance papers are located?

Throughout our lives, we plan for the future. We plan for our high school graduation, college, a new job, marriage, the birth of a baby, buying a house, vacations and more. But often we do not plan for an unexpected crisis. When things are going well, we don’t think about the need to know where our loved ones’ important papers are located.

Yet there is no better time to talk about this issue than before a crisis happens. Whether your loved ones are in perfect health or are dealing with chronic illnesses, by having a conversation now, you will gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing this important information is available, should you need it.

Start by making a list of personal information about your loved one. This list should contain their Social Security number, and the location of important documents like their birth certificate, marriage license and military papers. The list should also contain the names and phone numbers of doctors, lawyers and emergency contacts, as well as information for automobile, homeowners and life insurance.

Insurance information should include the company name, agent’s name, policy numbers and location of the documents. Financial information, such as bank accounts, credit cards and pension records (including the account numbers and location of the documents), also should be added to the list.

Any medical information should be a part of the list as well, including the locations for healthcare power of attorney, a living will or an organ donor card. If your loved one does not already have these documents or a trusted lawyer who can help with these forms, contact your state Bar Association or Legal Services Network for more information.

The list should also contain the location of documents pertaining to final wishes, including wills, burial arrangements and funeral plans.

After compiling this information and listing it, make copies, share it with trusted family members and keep the original in a safe place. Above all, do not let excuses get in the way of knowing where your loved ones’ important papers are located.


David Mitchell is the state director of AARP Arizona. 866-389-5649, 602-262-5165 or www.aarp.org.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 4, August/September 2007.

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