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woman in suicide gesture

Photo courtesy of Michal Marcol/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What a relief to dive back into my blog and escape the never-ending multitude of tasks involved in organizing my elderly father-in-law‘s finances, insurance and home maintenance. My head is spinning!

FIL took care of his own affairs past his 93rd birthday, after which he had several episodes that required hospital admittance. Each time he left the hospital, his mind and body was significantly weaker. He asked my husband to take over the mail and bills, and we obliged without having any idea what a daunting task that would be. To his credit, FIL was very detailed, keeping copious notes and retaining copies of all important documents. However, some of those documents are in duplicate and triplicate, retained in various drawers, closets and atop furniture throughout the house. Since I am accustomed to electronic bill payments and easy access to information, I felt like I was drowning in paper and needed to come up for air.

With all good intentions, I cleaned out the varied paper-filled repositories, which smelled like mothballs, carted garbage bags of paper home, and sorted through them to prioritize. Like a proud child hanging a drawing on the refrigerator, I handed my husband a stack of papers that highlighted important contacts, online access information, and instructions to change FIL’s mailing address to our home. I should have realized that with the mountain of hospital bills he was wading through, these directions only served to add irritation to overwhelmed. The subject of hospital administration can be a blog all its own. It seems like every doctor or technician who walked into FIL’s room and asked how he was doing, eventually sent a bill.

In the end, I took the papers back and exercised the organizational-obsessive skills that I have always been teased about. They say those who can’t do, teach. As I am struggling to do this myself, here’s my advice to anyone going through this ordeal:

  1. Create an Excel spreadsheet with different tabs for monthly bills, banking, home maintenance services/professionals, insurance providers, etc. In each tab, include contact details, payments amounts, dates of last payments, and any other information for a quick reference.
  2. While gathering the documents to populate the spreadsheet, create physical folders to organize the hard copies. File according to the same categories that are in the spreadsheet. This creates a cross-reference when something just doesn’t look right. Note: I have had a puzzled expression on my face for so long, I am wondering if it is true that your face can freeze like that.
  3. Create online accounts where possible to set up electronic statement delivery, update contact information, and arrange alerts for dates of bills due and any Certificate of Deposit maturity.

The most important step is something that should be done long before life events get to this point: Drag your elderly relative or friend, kicking and screaming if necessary, to a lawyer and have an updated will, Power of Attorney, and Health Proxy drafted and executed. It is incredibly difficult to get anyone in the medical, banking or government fields to talk to you about someone’s else’s physical and financial status without these documents. They are more concerned about potential liability then your efforts to help.

I was feeling pretty good about myself this morning after having been up until 2 a.m. working on this. Then I found a document that led to more research, emails and a list of calls to make tomorrow. Just when I put my feet up, my husband returned from a visit with FIL, carrying three metal boxes, a huge pouch and more envelopes. Good grief; just shoot me!