March 2, 2011

Organizing the Paper Clutter – Your Advocacy Connection

By Gail Glockhoff-Long
GolderCare Solutions

Your Advocacy Connection – Offering Comprehensive Care and Financial Advocacy

There are a multitude of articles and books about How to Declutter Your Life or How to Organize Your Life. They suggest cleaning out closets and arranging your clothes by color. They give ideas of how to organize your pantry and home desk. They tell how many years of tax returns to keep. Unfortunately, they leave out the most important things you need to organize – your “Important Papers.”

Your Important Papers include:

• Legal documents including your will, business and medical Powers of Attorney, living will, and trust documents;
• Insurance papers including all life insurance policies, annuity policies, home owner or renter insurance, copies of medical insurance cards, Medicare supplement and Medicare Part D or drug coverage;
• Personal papers including military discharge papers, Social Security card, birth certificate or citizenship papers, marriage license, and death certificate of spouse if widowed;
• Financial papers including pension papers, annual notice of benefits from Social Security, company pension papers, 401(k) or IRA documents, stock certificates, deed to your home, mortgage documents or release of mortgage if your mortgage is paid off;
• Final request papers including prepaid funeral or cemetery documents.

My father, Roy Glockhoff, was an attorney until age 94 ? and a very independent person. He prided himself on being able to handle his own affairs even at his advanced age. He was meticulous about keeping the original or a copy of his important papers in one of two leather portfolios kept in the top drawer of the file cabinet. The last couple of years of his life he told me where to find the documents and reminded me on several occasions after our original discussion, including his final trip to the hospital before he passed. Knowing where to find their documents made it much easier for me to assist my parents.

In our office, we have had many occasions where applying for public benefits or advocating for our clients and their family has been delayed due to the inability of family members to locate needed documentation. All too often the family member has no idea where to even start looking for the needed papers. The frustration is magnified if the parent has any forgetfulness or memory issues. Whether you are 50, 70 or 94, now is the time to organize your papers to help your loved ones help you.

So, where do you start and why do you need so many papers?

Legal documents are witnessed documents that express your wishes if you are unable to speak for yourself. They give your agent the power and authority to act on your behalf and transact business or make medical decisions when you are unable. You may wish to keep the original document in a safety deposit box at your bank and keep a copy with your important papers at home.

Older life insurance policies were not required to send annual reports to the policy owner. We have had several clients say they had life insurance with “X” company but are not sure if it is still in force. Some older policies had a limited pay period, say 20 years or until age 65. After that, you would not receive a premium bill making it easy to forget you have the insurance. With a copy of the policy, even if the company has changed names, we can track the policy to determine if it still has value and who is listed as the beneficiary. When applying for public benefits, the amount of life insurance and who is named as beneficiary are very important.

Military discharge and service information is needed when applying for veteran’s benefits. Widows of veterans are eligible for many benefits and should keep their spouse’s military papers and a copy of their spouse’s death certificate as well as their marriage certificate with their important papers.

Applications for public benefits generally require 3 years of bank statements including every numbered page of the statement. Keeping all bank records in one location helps provide your loved ones with a complete financial picture. Bank statements can be obtained from the bank but there is often a cost and, with some banks, a long delay.

An often overlooked financial document is your mortgage release. We have found house sales delayed because the mortgage release was not filed with the County Recorder’s office when the mortgage was paid off. Having a copy of the release letter from the mortgage company can save days and weeks of delay.

Now that you have located and organized all of your important documents and put them in a safe, fireproof location; make sure you tell your loved ones where to find them.

Gail Glockhoff-Long is the GolderCare Solutions office manager and a Medicaid coordinator. She has over 23 years experience in the insurance field.