Organizing financial and legal documents – Caregiver advice

Organizing financial and legal documents – Caregiver advice

One of the responsibilities that may fall upon you as a caregiver is how to manage and organize important personal documents and the affairs of the person in your care.

An important first step in managing important personal documents for others is to create a list of all vital documents and where they are located.

It may seem like a huge responsibility and one that you think you may not be capable of undertaking, but overseeing the personal, legal, and financial management of important documents is also an indicator of the level of trust the person in your care is placing on your shoulders.

Handling another person’s financial and legal matters can be a sensitive issue, especially when there are other people vested in the individual’s care and well-being, so it’s important to proceed with caution and as much knowledge as you can get.

If you don’t have experience in how to manage and organize financial or legal matters for another person, consider consulting with, or hiring, a financial planner and/or lawyer to assist you and the person in your care.

There are a number of free or low-cost resources being offered by some associations, membership groups, and not-for-profit organizations that can provide advice on legal and financial document management. Don’t forget that the people in your own network – your family and friends – may also be able to help you or get you in touch with someone who can help.

An important first step in managing important personal documents for others is to create a list of all vital documents and where they are located, and you don’t need any financial expertise to carry this step out!

This list of important legal, personal, and financial documents should include the following:

Identification documents

Passports, proof of citizenship and/or immigration status documents, driver’s license, marriage certificate, social insurance number, health care card, birth certificate, etc.

Banking/financial information

Credit cards, debit cards, bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, mortgages, loans, lines of credit, etc.

Investments/benefits information

Mutual funds, bonds, stocks (and other investment portfolios), pension plans, RRSPs, RESPs, insurance policies, intangible assets, etc.

Legal documents

Wills, trusts, estate planning, funeral arrangement documents, Power of Attorney documents, litigation documents, etc.

Income and tangible asset documents/access

Property ownership, vehicles, equipment, post and safety deposit box keys, utilities, insurance papers, and tax returns for the past couple of years.

Important contact information

Estate and financial planners, beneficiaries, next of kin, accountants, lawyers, etc.

Keep in mind that this document management of important personal information may need to change over time and should be updated on a regular basis. One suggestion is to review this list with the person you’re taking care of at the same time every year, such as when you file your taxes.  

It may be helpful to store these important personal, financial, and legal documents in one secure place, such as a fire-proof safe in the home or a safe deposit box.

When storing important personal documents outside of the home, offer to make photocopies for the person in your care so these important documents can be accessed quickly and easily – you may not always have time to run to the bank or storage facility to get them in case of an emergency.

In some cases, the person receiving care may be reluctant to share such personal financial and legal information with the caregiver, because he or she may still feel up to the task of managing his or her own affairs.

If you are a caregiver in this situation, inform the person you’re taking care of that your concern is about being able to find these important documents in the event of an emergency, to help ensure their wishes are being met. You don’t need to see the actual documents – you just need to know where to find them in a crisis.  

In some cases it may be appropriate to change the way the finances of the person in your care are handled, in order to make things easier for you to manage on their behalf. These changes may include the following:

  • Joint access to safe deposit boxes
  • Automatic or online payment of regular bills
  • Put in place a power of attorney depending on the province you live in
  • Direct deposit of pay cheques and benefits
  • Joint bank accounts so that bills can be paid and other funds withdrawn in an emergency situation – *due to risks to both you and the person you are caring for, you should seek financial and/or legal advice first

Regardless of the legal and financial document management arrangements you make, remember that the person you are caring for is still in charge of making decisions, unless he or she becomes mentally unable to do so.

Your role as the caregiver and person looking after their finances and personal important documents is to carry out their wishes and look after their best interests.

One last tip:

It’s a good idea to talk to the person you are caring for about the danger and possibility of frauds and scams. It’s remarkably and frighteningly easy for any one of us to be caught by a con artist looking for a quick way to make money, and people who are feeling lonely tend to be particularly vulnerable.

Encourage the person in your care to partner with you. They need to trust and allow you to manage and organize their important personal documents, and other personal affairs, so that you can help keep them safe and make them better aware of their financial situation.

Also read our caregiver’s guide on Organizing Health and Medical Information.

 

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