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Essential Legal Documents for Aging Parents

Financial documents seniors should have

“Financial information can be crucial in many instances for timely, efficient, and more affordable care,” says Stuart Furman, an elder law attorney in Valley Center, CA.

A senior applying for certain benefits, such as Medicaid, is required to demonstrate their financial need by providing comprehensive financial documentation. For example, the Medicaid Look-Back Period examines an applicant’s past and present financial situation to determine eligibility for Medicaid health insurance coverage.

“If a family member cannot locate important documents like tax returns or bank account information, it could delay care or even cause a senior to be denied for insurance like Medicaid or veterans benefits,” says Tiffany Wise, senior director of customer development at A Place for Mom.

Following are examples of important financial documents seniors should have organized and safely stored for quick and easy reference:

  • Valid state identification
  • List of bank accounts and account information
  • Pension documents, 401(k) information, and annuity contracts
  • Tax returns
  • Savings bonds, stock certificates, or brokerage accounts
  • Business partnership and corporate operating agreements.
  • Deeds to all properties
  • Vehicle titles
  • Documentation of loans and debts, including credit accounts
  • A power of attorney (POA) in which your parent has named a person or persons to act on their behalf should your parent become incapacitated.

Health care and medical documents for senior parents

Regardless of their current health, it’s vital that your aging loved one’s medical care preferences be clearly stated in a living will. They should also name a health care agent or health care proxy (titles vary by state), who is responsible for making health care decisions on their behalf should they become unable to do so.[01]

Having official paperwork is important when taking your older parent to a hospital. Doctors may ask for documentation of your loved one’s durable power of attorney or advance directives and may want proof that you’re the designated decision maker. Having access to a senior’s medical history can also be important during a medical emergency. For example, documentation about the medications they’re currently taking could influence treatment.

Another thing to consider when helping an aging loved one determine what legal documents they need is that many insurances and benefits require medical records. Your parent will often need to provide medical records when applying for VA benefits, or Medicaid, or when applying to move into assisted living or another type of senior living community.

Having the following health care and medical documents can be important to help ensure your loved one is able to access the care and benefits they need:

  • Health care proxy or power of attorney
  • Authorization to release health care information
  • Living will (health care directive)
  • Personal medical history
  • Insurance card
  • Long-term care insurance policy
  • Emergency information sheet that includes a list of treating physicians and diagnoses

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End-of-life and estate planning documents

End-of-life documents communicate a senior’s preferences for the last phase of their life. Estate planning provides guidance on how their assets will be managed and/or distributed upon their death. These documents can save both elderly loved ones and their family the burden of added stress during a difficult time. Because this type of planning is often detailed and involves state specific laws, your aging parent should consider consulting with an elder law attorney.

The following end-of-life and estate planning documents can clarify your loved ones wishes upon their death while helping surviving family members avoid conflict regarding the distribution of assets:

  • Last will and testament. A last will and testament is a document containing your loved one’s wishes as to the distributions of their assets.
  • Trust documents. A trust is a legal document that allows your loved one to place assets within the trust which is held by a third party for the beneficiaries.
  • Life insurance policies. Depending on the terms, a life insurance policy will typically pay a lump sum to designated beneficiaries upon the policy holders death.
  • Letter of last instruction. A letter of last instruction is a document which may including actions, wishes, or items not covered in your loved one’s will. For example, the letter could include memorial terms, who should be notified of their passing, or how to handle their ashes.

Military records are required when applying for VA benefits. For a surviving spouse of a veteran, a marriage certificate may also be required. Many state and federal assistance programs may require proof of citizenship or residency in a particular state or county.

It’s important to organize and safeguard the following documents to help seniors maintain proof of their identity:

  • Marriage papers
  • Divorce papers
  • List of online usernames and passwords
  • List of safe deposit boxes and the location of their keys
  • Military records
  • Birth certificate
  • Driver’s license
  • Social Security card
  • Passport
  • Guardianship/conservatorship forms

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Tips for storing an elderly parent’s important documents

It’s not enough to merely have these legal documents for aging parents — they need to be accessible. Experts recommend organizing important documents in a master folder or box and storing in a secure place, like a fire-proof safe.

Going paperless is another option for creating easy access to legal documents seniors should have. However, in some circumstances you must also be able to provide the original, signed document such as with a will, or power of attorney. You can scan them onto your computer, name them accordingly, and store them using an external hard drive or cloud storage service. While digital storage can make sending documents easier, certain situations require documents to be presented in physical form.

Regardless of how you choose to store legal documents for your aging parents, it’s important to keep them safe and organized. Take the time to create a system that works best for your family and allows you to easily find documents when they are needed.


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