By Betty Berry, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011  Q: My parents are very private about their finances and personal records. Until now this has not been a problem. But they are beginning to need my assistance, and I don’t have the information I need to help them get the care and services they require. Do you have any suggestions about what would be useful for me to ask them to provide?

A: Your situation is not uncommon. We are all guilty to some degree about lack of getting our financial and personal records in order and at least letting a family member or close friend know where the records are kept should an emergency arise.

While each person’s situation is unique and requires different action, specific information and basic documents should be available. The following suggestions may help to organize personal and financial records not only for your parents but perhaps for you too.

To start, a personal records file should include the individual’s full legal name as well as any other names previously used, legal residence, date and place of birth and Social Security number. Without these four pieces of information obtaining services can be very difficult. The file should also include the name or names of spouses and children and whether they are living or deceased. Information on where to find a will or trust, certificates of birth, marriage, divorce and death and citizenship papers should be provided.

A record of employment (employers and dates of employment), education (schools, degrees and dates obtained), and military service (enlistment and discharge dates, branch of service and rank) would be most useful in determining what benefits might be available.

Requests, preferences or prearrangements for burial along with religious affiliation as well as names and addresses of close friends, relatives, doctors, accountant, lawyer or financial adviser can make the caregiver’s task much easier.

A second file, a financial records file, is the place to list information about insurance policies, bank accounts, deeds, investments and other valuables.

This file should show all sources and amounts of income (pension, Social Security, interest, etc.) and types of assets (stocks, bonds, property, bank accounts, etc.). Details of insurance coverage are also needed. Names of insurers and policy numbers for health care, life and property coverage and contact telephone numbers for those policies will provide the caregiver with the ability to handle almost any crisis.

If there are outstanding liabilities, a list of what is owned and to whom and dates payments are due should be included. This would cover such debts as mortgages, credit cards, charge accounts and property and income taxes.

The financial record file should provide the location of a safe-deposit box, if applicable, and the name or names of those who have access. A copy of the most recent income tax return would be a useful resource.

Additional issues that should be considered are the execution of two documents: an advance directive for health care and a general durable power of attorney. These documents will allow the person named in the document to act on behalf of the person who can no longer act on their own.

Before completing any legal documents, however, never hesitate to consult with an attorney for advice to make sure the action you plan does what you are expecting it to do.


Feb. 8: Seminar, 7-8:30 p.m., “Government Resources,” Senior Concerns Day Center, 401 Hodencamp Road, Thousand Oaks. For information and reservations, call 497-0189.

Feb. 9: Seminar, 1:30-3 p.m., “Looking Ahead in 2011,” Westlake Village Civic Center, 31200 E. Oak Crest Drive, Westlake Village. For information, call 495-6250.

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