Life Hacks, Life Lessons

What to do Before a Parent Dies Part I: Gather all the paperwork

Something almost everyone might face some day is the loss of a parent or parents.  What can you do to prepare for that inevitable day?  Well, you could try to convince them to live forever, but we are not there yet.

elder-picThe next best option is to be as prepared as possible.  It’s a difficult thing to sit down and think about but something that many of us will have to face at some point. Every family is different, especially in these Modern Family Times, so this post isn’t meant to be an all encompassing checklist. Rather, it is meant to get your thought process started on the path now so that when the time comes, you are more prepared in you time of need. It’s worth an an Estate attorney’s time to advise you on your specific situation. Note: this won’t be cheap but it is worth a few thousand dollars today versus losing or paying more down the road.

A friend of a friend went through this not too long ago and after all the dust cleared, she sent around an email that covered a lot of bases. [At her request, I am preserving her anonymity.]

What my Friend Once Removed learned:

  • Make decisions before they have to be made; few good decisions are made in a crisis.
  • Plan for what parents will need, not for their needs today.
  • Be transparent among siblings so everyone can be on the same page (note: There may be children from previous marriages involved in the decision process.)
  • Divide the labor.
  • An estate attorney is essential; You will need one to draft the legal documentation and advise you.Know where all the paperwork is.

Figure out where everything is


  • Social Security numbers
  • Bank account information
  • Safe Deposit box information and keys
  • Checkbooks and blanks
  • Credit card accounts
  • Pension information
  • Investment information
  • Stock & Bond information
  • IRA and 401(k) information
  • Stockbrokers/personal bankers
  • Health insurance information Military discharge papers
  • Mortgage documents,
  • deeds
  • Divorce/marriage/adoption/birth records,
  • wills
  • Cemetery plot deeds
  • Insurance policies –life, home, auto, etc.

Make a list of all of the above  Get pertinent contact information for all of the above. You will need it later.  Record policy/account numbers and gather online account logins and passwords.  Take the time now to test those online accounts and bookmark on your computer — this is so much easier when your parent is still alive!

Confirm: Call all of the issuing companies (above) and find out what documentation you and your parents will need to sign in order for you or a family member to have access to that information when the time comes. This can be a lifesaver!

Know all sources of income and debt/financial obligations

  • Salary
  • Social Security
  • Pension
  • Veterans Administration Benefits
  • Alimony
  • Investment dividends
  • Settlements
  • Other

Know all financial obligations

  • Mortgages
  • Property tax Loans
  • Credit cards
  • utilities and services
  • Insurance premiums
  • Planned giving
  • automated billing
  • Other

Fun Fact: Google “lost insurance policies” for information from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to help find old/missing life insurance policies, such as infantile policies common in the 1930s and 1940s. Some are so old they’re not in insurance companies electronic records but they may still be valid.

A friend of a friend went through the aftermath of losing a parent not too long ago and after all the dust cleared, she sent around an email that covered a lot of bases. In this three part series I will share her advise along with what she learned.  See Part II and Part III here.

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