Life is sweet at home

Get Organized Month Urges Families to Get Documents, Wishes Completed

Caregivers should organize key documents before a crisis happens. — Photo by Tammy Hanratty/Corbis

Caregivers should organize key documents before a crisis happens. — Photo by Tammy Hanratty/Corbis

I get a kick out of the names of some monthly observances. In January, for example, we can celebrate everything from Elvis’ Birthday Week to Someday We’ll Laugh About This Week and Cuckoo Dancing Week.

But since it is the New Year, I suggest we celebrate Get Organized Month. Not only is getting organized a good idea but getting legal documents and wishes in order is a huge gift to your family.

In keeping with the spirit of January’s Get Organized Month, here are a few suggestions for “eating the get-organized elephant one bite at a time.”

How to Avoid a Caregiving Crisis

   Five Wishes helps us get organized.  Photo courtesy agingwithdignity.org.

Five Wishes helps us get organized. Photo courtesy agingwithdignity.org.

Families often contact us when they are in crisis. Mom has broken her hip. She is in the hospital and is quite disoriented. The kids need to make a number of important decisions but they can’t agree on “what Mom wants.”

As care managers we encourage families to get organized before a crisis. Take the time to work with your elder on his or her legal, financial, health care and end-of-life plan.

An AARP article about caregiving and critical documents suggests families take three steps to get organized.

3 Steps to Assemble Important Documents

1. Discovery: Ask your parents where they store important papers. Documents that should be assembled and accounted for might include:
• birth certificate
• marriage certificate
• death certificate (for deceased spouse)
• divorce papers
• military records
• driver’s license/organ donor card
• passport/citizen papers
• will
• living will
• durable power of attorney
• health care power of attorney
• trust
• letter of instruction — with funeral arrangements, important contact information such as insurance agent or broker.
• insurance policies (life, disability, long-term care)
• information about safety deposit boxes (e.g., location, number, key)

2. Review: Next, sit down as a family to review all the documents.

3. Storage: Keep the important documents in a safe, accessible place such as a secure file cabinet. Copies should be made for the person who is designated as a health care agent, and you should consider copying the files onto a thumb drive that can be stored at another location.

Make a Caregiving Plan

Now, you can make a care plan. What are your loved one’s needs and wishes – current and future? As long as they are able, let your loved one make the decisions. After a care plan has been developed, share the information with everyone in the loop. Also realize that as circumstances change the care plan will evolve.

Five Wishes Helps Define Wants

If you or your loved one has difficulty dealing with the personal, emotional and spiritual side of making health care decisions, consider using the Five Wishes® form. It is designed to help individuals and their families to plan ahead and to cope with serious illness. Once it is filled out and properly signed, it is a valid living will in most states.

Five Wishes List

Wish 1 – The person I want to make health care decisions for me when I can not make them for myself.
Wish 2 – My wish for the kind of medical treatment I want or do not want.
Wish 3 – My wish for how comfortable I want to be.
Wish 4 – My wish for how I want people to treat me.
Wish 5 – My wish for what I want my loved ones to know.

Do you have your documents in order? What are your elder care desires?