Taking control of your parent’s personal matters has to be one of the most challenging areas for a family caregiver. It is crucial that you keep his or her important documents safe and organized. It is also important for you to understand what these documents mean. Rick Lauber, the author of The Successful Caregiver’s Guide and Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians, offers his tips on how to organize an aging parent’s documents.
Keeping Documents Organized
When you are organizing your parent’s paperwork, collect contact information for all of your parent’s service providers (i.e., doctor, banker, financial planner, lawyer, real estate agent). Do not carelessly stack business cards on the kitchen counter or toss them into a drawer; find a better means of retaining these.
I purchased a small business card holder (you can find these at any office supply store) to keep these cards secure. Another option is to attach a cork bulletin board to your wall and pin the collected cards to it. When the bulletin board is placed by your home telephone, you can have all of these caregiving contacts handy; however, if you need to call or check in with someone when you are away from home, this is not as convenient. For this reason, I’d recommend programming contact names, phone numbers, office addresses, and email addresses into your cellphone. While programming can prove to be a time-consuming task, you are doing yourself a favor because you never know if, and when, you will need this information when you are away from home. In this case, know that many of today’s cell phones have a camera. Snap and save a photo of each business card for your reference.
Effective and efficient filing systems can prove to be worth their weight in gold. As a caregiver, you will accumulate ample paperwork and you will need to store it. Until I realized I had to become better organized myself, I had papers and notes strewn about my home (even bright yellow Post-it notes framed my computer’s monitor). When finally deciding all of this was not highly effective, I purchased a small, two-drawer filing cabinet and used different colored file folders to keep my parent’s information easily accessible. As a visual person, I chose to use various colors of folders so I could immediately find what I needed; for example, there was a green file for banking and a yellow file for medical. With the amount of material I had collected, completing this job took several days; however, I was very pleased with the results.
Finding a few minutes per day to keep up with your filing may seem like an unnecessary chore, but it can save you immense time and headaches later when you are looking for a specific document.
In addition to long-term document storage, you may also want to create a short-term filing system of what needs to be done on a weekly basis. Using an accordion file, label each pocket with the days of the week. Slide your personal notes into each pocket; for example, Mom’s doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, her haircut on Wednesday, and parental bill-paying on Friday. If you miss an appointment, or if it gets rescheduled for any reason, it is simple enough to transfer your note into another daily folder pocket or keep it where it is for the same time and day next week.
You can also note these appointments in a day planner; however, I found that page space was often limited. Your best choice in a day planner will feature a “one page per day” layout; this will give you more room to write in multiple appointments. (Note: When scheduling appointments or meetings, resist the temptation to book things back-to-back as longer than expected line-ups, appointment waiting times, potential traffic jams, and even slower-moving seniors can delay you.) I utilized this practice and also paper clipped or stapled any accompanying information required (e.g., a business card with an office address, a dry-cleaning receipt, or a prescription notice to be refilled) to the specific page.
Your means of organization is only limited by your own preferences and creativity. A dry-erase board on your wall can be used and reused to note any upcoming appointments. An in-and-out basket can help you focus on what needs to be done and which jobs have been completed. For best results, choose the filing system that is right for you. Filing systems are not ironclad by any means; these can be adopted, streamlined, and/or discarded, as needed.
Some words of caution: While you will be collecting receipts, bills, and bank statements in your parent’s name, do not hang onto such documents needlessly. This not only creates a mountain of paperwork for you to dig through, it also becomes a risk for identity theft. To best dispose of this sensitive information, buy a home shredder. Invest a few more dollars in a machine to ensure better quality. My first home shredder was less expensive and for a good reason; it very quickly proved to be incapable of handling the increased workload. Personally, I like the heavy-duty shredders that can also shred credit cards and staples as well as handle multiple sheets at one time. If your shredding does get out of hand, look for a mobile shredding company in your city or town. In my area, a fully equipped shredding truck can come to my home for document destruction. Maybe your banker, accountant, or lawyer could be convinced to provide safe disposal.