If someone were to ask your adult children when you saw a doctor last, could any of them answer? What if you were asked for a list of specialists you've seen in the last five years or the results of hospital tests you've had in that period? Could your family find your birth certificate?
At the beginning of any discussion of care planning and aging successfully the first thing we ask is what is you current situation? If you could no longer manage for yourself, who would handle your affairs? Could that person access the necessary information quickly and effectively? Depending on what care you are seeking, there is a variety of information that could be requested. Take the time now to organize the information needed to facilitate your care in the future. Your efforts today will also make it easier for your family in the future should they need to step in to assist you. In addition to the health care information, other information you might need in the future would be the records on your financial and legal life. There is a tendency to say that you will cross that bridge when you come to it. But taking the time now to organize records will build those bridges.
I was asked recently what documents to retain, how long information should be kept and how best to organize records to make it easier to access both for the senior and for the family. I came across an interesting article published from Yale Medical that I found helpful when looking to build those ''bridges.'' The article recommends that as you look to organize your medical records, get a large notebook. On the front write your legal name, social security number, and health and life insurance information. On the next page start with your personal history: date and place of birth, names and addresses of your spouse and children. Use the notebook to document any special arrangement you would want for care. List the locations where your important documents would be found: will, health care proxy and power of attorney papers, birth certificate, military discharge papers, bank statements, investment records, and deeds for home or burial plots. Then use the rest of the notebook to track your current medical history. Document date, time, name and phone number for any health-related visit with the reason and outcome of the visit. Keep an updated list of your prescriptions including what it is prescribed for and when and who prescribed it. When a drug is discontinued, list when and by whom. Ask for copies of medical records and discharge records. Use an expandable file to keep with the notebook for the paperwork collected from providers. You can take your notebook with you to medical appointments to use as a reference if needed.
In a separate file, put records concerning your financial and legal life. Many people have no idea which important documents they should keep and which could be discarded. So they end up either keeping everything or throwing away documents that should be kept. Using IRS guidelines and advice from AARP this is an overview of documents that should be kept and for how long. Develop a filing system that makes sense and is easy for you to use. Then as you assemble the items, write down where they can be located. Some documents are best kept in a safety deposit box or in a fire-safe lock box. Put the list of documents and their location with your important papers and then tell trusted friends and family where the list is.
Documents that never should be discarded:
Social security cards
Inventory of household goods
1040 tax records (in case earning records need to be corrected)
Documents updated / current copies:
Health Care Proxy
Power of Attorney
Documents to keep for as long as you own or in effect:
Deed to hometitle to vehicle
bills for major purchase or repair
Documents to discard after seven years:
Copies of income tax filings
Bank records related to taxes and business expenses
Paycheck stubs that reflect additional tax deductions
Bank statements and cancelled checks
Credit card statements that show charges with tax implications
Documents to keep for one year:
Bills (with no tax implications)
Quarterly statements for retiree plans after verifying with annual statement
Pay stubs that reflect only standard deductions
There are no "hard and fast rules" to record retention, some say that when in doubt, keep for 10 years.
As you collect and file your records, there are two things to remember. First, with few exceptions, most every vital piece of documentation has been saved by another entity. So with various degrees of effort they could be reprinted for your records. Second, you do not want anyone else to have your private information. Don't just throw your discarded records in the garbage. Shred any record that has your personal information to avoid identity theft.
As you pull together your records, you have the opportunity to review your personal affairs, making sure important documents have not expired, are valid and reflect your wishes and current situation. The task may seem overwhelming but getting organized will be worth the effort.
Kate Finch is the Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Senior Services Coordinator for the North County. NY Connects is your one-stop call for information about services available to you in Chautauqua County. Call with your questions and we will provide you with local services and resources in an effort to meet your needs. You can reach NY Connects by phone in Jamestown at 661-7582, in Dunkirk/Fredonia at 363-4582 and in Mayville at 753-4582. It can also be reached by fax at 753-4477, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or in-person at 7 N. Erie St. in Mayville. NY Connects is brought to you in cooperation from the Chautauqua County Office for the Aging and the Chautauqua County Department of Social Services.