Help Them Get Organized
Think about all of the things you might need to know or find if your parents suddenly died or were incapacitated. Are your parents neat, orderly, and organized? Do they have a filing system that makes sense to you? Do you know where to locate the information? Are they secretive and have they hidden their jewelry and valuables? Would you know where to begin to find them all?
These are questions you should begin asking yourself long before a crisis happens. You need to help them organize their information and share it with you. Some of the most important information you need includes:
Bank accounts, including checking accounts, savings accounts, CDs, mutual funds, 401(k) and IRA accounts, stocks, and bonds. You'll need names of institutions and account numbers. Don't forget PIN numbers for ATM cards.
Internet accounts and passwords
Life insurance policies and homeowner's or renter's policies
Car and other vehicle insurance policies
Real estate deeds, mortgage information, and property tax information
Social Security numbers, passports, driver's licenses, and other forms of ID
Credit card account numbers — photocopies of the front and back of the cards is advisable
Burial-plot information, prepaid cremation plans, mortuary arrangements, as well as any funeral requests
Health insurance policies, including copies of cards
Safe deposit boxes, including passwords, keys, combinations, locations, and any other specific information for access
Wills, advance directives, living wills, power of attorney, durable power of attorney for health care
Hiding places in the house, yard, garage, and car for money and valuables
Contact information for friends and neighbors
Contact information for health care (doctors, dentists, chiropractors, pharmacies)
Keys, location, and combinations to house, vehicles, gates, lock boxes, and safes
Titles and pink slips for cars, boats, and other vehicles
Location and information about jewelry, artwork, and other valuables
A complete medical history and list of current medications and allergies
Depending on your parents' particular situation, some of these things may not apply. There may be many other forms of information you need, such as immigration documents or employee paperwork if they are still working. Prepare your own list and make sure you have what you need while they are still able to provide it.
You don't need to probe into private financial matters and specifics at this point; it is just important to be able to find the information should it become necessary. Certainly, a checkbook would lead you to a bank account, but your parents may have several accounts. Does your mother have a secret separate account? Make sure you get all of their information.
Your parents should have all of this information in one place, and you should have a copy of it. If there is a family attorney, she should have a copy in her files. It should be kept up to date.