By Betty Berry, Tuesday, June 8, 2010  Q: My parents are very private about their finances and personal records.

Until now this hasn’t 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 I should ask them to provide?

A: Your situation is not uncommon. We are all guilty to some degree of not planning for the future, which includes getting our financial and personal records in order and letting a family member or close friend know where the information is kept.

Although each person’s situation is unique, some basic information and documents should be available.

The following suggestions might help you organize not only your parents’ records but also your own.

First, compile a personal records file that includes the individual’s full legal name, legal residence, date and place of birth, and Social Security number. Without these four pieces of information, obtaining services can be difficult.

This file should also include the 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 or 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) are useful in determining what benefits might be available.

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

Second, create a financial records file that lists 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 healthcare, 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 owed, and to whom and when payments are due, should be included.

This would cover such debts as mortgages, charge accounts, and property and income taxes.

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

Additional issues that should be considered are the execution of two documents: an advance directive for healthcare and a general durable power of attorney, which allow someone named in the document to act on behalf of the person.

Before completing any legal documents, don’t hesitate to consult with an attorney for advice.

— Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362; call 495-6250 or e-mail (please include your telephone number). You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.

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