Emergency Documents

Collect and store this emergency information before you need it.

As we age, it becomes increasingly important to have medical, financial, and end-of-life information immediately available in case of an emergency. Be prepared for an emergency by compiling these key documents in a safe, easily accessible location. This will ensure the person you choose has access to the information they need when the time comes, whether in a medical or financial emergency, or to inform end-of-life decisions.

“The law doesn’t require people to do planning,” says Kevin C. Lichtenberg, attorney for HeflerLichtenberg, LLC and chair of the Chicago Bar Association’s Elder and Disability Law Committee. “[But] in consideration of a loved one, to have the table already set, it makes it all a lot easier with less court involvement down the road.”

It’s also critical to have conversations with your loved ones about care and finances, says Daxa Sanghvi, a social worker and caregiver specialist at the Kenneth Young Center in Elk Grove Village. People tend to avoid these conversations for many reasons. “Some people are hesitant to inform family members because they’re afraid they will lose control of their assets,” Sanghvi says. Others avoid the conversations because talking about death or incapacitation feels uncomfortable or morose. Yet, the reality is, we all may need the people we trust to advocate for us and handle our estate at some point. Both are easier when they have the tools to do so.

“It’s important because sometimes family members are not aware where the financial resources are, and without that, they cannot manage the care,” Sanghvi says. “People don’t know what the assets are or how to access the assets to pay for care in-home or in a facility. It’s really crucial to have family members be aware of that.”

Sanghvi has witnessed adult children, even spouses, who have no idea how much money is available or what their loved one’s health issues are. As a result, they had no grasp of the level of care their loved one could afford or the healthcare choices their loved one would prefer. Trusted loved ones also need to have access to financial information so if money is not available for care, they have the necessary documents to apply for state-funded services.

Documents and storage

Get ready — financial planners and elder law attorneys recommend you compile a long list of items in at least one safe spot — along with applicable passwords. That list includes:

  • Bank account numbers for checking, savings, and retirement accounts
  • Income
  • Pensions and Social Security accounts
  • Long-term care and life insurance contact information
  • Bills and corresponding account information
  • Real estate, mortgage, and loan information
  • Funeral arrangements
  • Medical insurance and details on medications or health issues
  • Vehicle titles
  • Details on stocks and investments

Some individuals still own actual paper shares of stock, often squirreled away in a safe deposit box, and sometimes no longer issued by companies. Guardians who may find these stocks in a safe deposit box should reach out to the company’s broker, such as Computershare, to cash, deposit, or convert the shares to nonpaper stocks.

Store this information in a safe place such as a bank vault, home safe, or with an elder attorney, or trusted family members. Although Lichtenberg does not keep any of his clients’ possessions or paperwork, many estate planning attorneys do and often have a will vault in their offices that includes the client’s original will and power of attorney documents. Make sure the executor knows where to locate the information.

Sanghvi says that no matter where you store this information, trusted guardians need to know where they can access it. She says storing it in a safe place somewhere in the house where it could be locked up but accessible, would be ideal, particularly for availability on nights or weekends when banks are not open or if they don’t know where the safe deposit keys are.

Lichtenberg also recommends taking preparations one step further. Save the information digitally.

“Document storage is relevant,” he says. And making sure documents are available digitally could make them easier to access and share with the necessary parties when the time comes. If you or a loved one aren’t tech-savvy, ask a trusted financial advisor, attorney, or agent under the power of attorney to assist with saving the documents digitally on the Cloud.

Pre-planning is about helping your heirs in time of crisis, and making sure your wishes are carried out. In the event of an emergency, the table is set, Lichtenberg says. “No one is scrambling.”

Article republished in the Winter/Spring 2024 print issue