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Friday, March 1, 2013

Caring for my 90-year-old mother

After my Dad died, my sister and I realized that we needed to step up and help our mother manage her daily affairs.

She has macular degeneration and is legally blind, but still insists on living in the same house she’s been in since 1953.  She doesn’t want any help around the house, except for a lawn service.  (And my sister’s and my services as light bulb changers, appliance repair personnel, plumbers and electricians.)  She is still mentally sharp and her physical health is pretty good, though she does have a bad day every once in a while.  But who doesn’t?

The macular degeneration keeps her from reading her bills, but luckily, her bank has a good online bill-paying site and so my sister pays the bills electronically.  We see mom often enough so we can go through any mail and deal with what comes up.

The Lost Purse

My sister, living closer to my mom, has taken the lead on watching out for her.  But I am still very involved in her care.  Recently, my mom lost her purse along with all her IDs, credit cards and insurance cards.  My sister was able to quickly cancel her credit cards and I took care of replacing the Medicare and insurance cards.  Fortunately we had copies of what she lost, and replacement wasn’t too much of a problem. 

That replacement process made me realized how important it was to have access to certain documents, or at least copies of them.   So, for anybody taking care of an elderly parent, here's a quick list of documents that you should save for your parent, even if no lost purse is involved.  Depending on your circumstances, you probably have even more to add.

List of Documents 


  • Copy of Social Security card
  • Copy state ID card (Or driver’s license, if still current)
  • Copy of Passport (even if it has expired)
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate


  • Medicare card
  • Medicare supplement insurance card
  • Long term care policies
  • Life insurance policies or certificates
  • Homeowners insurance policy
  • Umbrella insurance policy
  • Auto insurance policy
  • Auto insurance “Proof of Insurance” cards


  • List of medications from internist
  • List of medications from any specialist
  • Internist report (ask the GP or Internist to draft a short report, 2 or 3 pages, identifying all medical issues and the current course of treatment)
  • Specialist reports
  • Recent blood test results


  • A recent bank statement for each account
  • Copies of bank signature cards, showing all signatories on an account
  • Copies of credit cards or recent statements (If a statement, check to make sure the full credit card number is on the statement)
  • Annuities
  • Certificates of Deposit
  • Stock and bond certificates
  • Location of safe deposit box key and last billing statement for the box
  • Mutual fund / Brokerage account statement
  • Annuities
  • Bank statement
  • Stock broker / mutual fund statements
  • Recent Social Security reports (check them to make sure they're correct)
  • Income tax returns for as long back as possible (or pay stubs in case the Social Security office miscalculates amounts due and a challenge is necessary)
  • Work and Union records (there may be some life insurance or other benefits)

Home / Property

  • Trust documents for home
  • Mortgage documents or releases
  • Reverse mortgage documents
  • Title insurance policies
  • Warranties on furnaces, water heaters, air conditioners other home equipment


  • Will
  • Living Will
  • Healthcare power of attorney
  • Property power of attorney
  • Medical power of attorney
  • Deceased spouse’s death certificate 

When you need these documents and one more point

Obviously we didn’t need all these documents when taking care of the lost purse.  But we will need all of these documents at some time.  Some, like certain documents listed in the Home, Financial and Insurance sections, are needed at least once a year.  Others, like some listed in the Medical and Insurance sections, become important when a medical issue arises.  Others will only become important during an emergency or after mom passes away.

And the final point.  Because of her macular degeneration, my mom occasionally misidentifies certain papers and in her efforts to tidy up the house, puts them where she thinks they should be stored, not where she, my sister or I would ever think to look for them.  Your elderly parent may misfile documents for other reasons.  But no matter what the reason, this is one area where you need to take the lead and have control of these documents.  This makes life easier for everybody.
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