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Finding and Managing an Aging Relative’s Important Documents

Managing Important documents
You might be amazed at some of the bizarre places that people put their documents. It would take you a month of Sundays to find the papers if the person had not told you where to look.

If you are serving as a caregiver for an aging relative, you know the job involves more paperwork than you ever imagined before taking on the responsibility. The task of caregiving is even more challenging when your loved one cannot find her essential documents. You might need a copy of your parents’ wedding license from 1950 so your mom can get her spousal retirement benefits. Your dad might need his military service records to enroll in veterans’ benefits programs. Finding missing documents can take up a serious amount of your time.

Before you start pulling out your hair trying to find these papers, it is good to have a plan. For example, the first three places in the house you will check, people you can call who might have useful information about where the documents might be stored, and a list of the banks where your mom or dad might have rented a safe deposit box. It also helps to know how you will go about getting replacement copies of the documents you cannot find. Here are some tips on how to locate or get copies of your aging relative’s important documents.

Let the Scavenger Hunt Begin

Before you rifle through all of his personal belongings, ask your loved one where he keeps his important papers. You might be amazed at some of the bizarre places that people put their documents. It would take you a month of Sundays to find the papers if the person had not told you where to look. A hollowed-out book, a cigar box, and a coffee can often hold treasure troves of paperwork. Some people keep valuable documents in the freezer, hidden in a closet, under a floorboard, or under the bed.

Make it easy on yourself and ask Dad where he keeps his papers. Explain why you need a particular document, and you would like to organize the rest of his papers so you can easily find things you need to help take care of him.

If he cannot remember or the papers are no longer where he thought they were, check the desk drawers, the family bible, a file cabinet, the attic, the basement, and shelves. If he put the documents in a safe deposit box, you will have to take him and the key, along with his government-issued photo identification to the bank. After you inventory the contents of the box, keep the list and have him add you to the safe deposit box so you can access the documents in the event of his death. Never leave funeral instructions or documents in the box.

When You Cannot Find It, Get a Replacement Copy

It can take weeks or longer to get replacement documents, and it is best to start this process well before you need the papers. You can contact the applicable state’s or county’s vital records office to get certified copies of certificates of birth, death, marriage, and divorce. Make sure you have your loved one’s Social Security card, driver’s license or state identification card, Medicare and Medicaid cards, and military records. If any of these are missing, contact the appropriate government agency to get replacement copies.

Finding missing documents is even more frustrating if it needs to be done more than once, so scan everything you find and keep it in a secure location as well.


AARP. “Find or Replace Your Loved One’s Missing Documents.” (accessed July 22, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/info-2018/replacing-important-documents.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-LEG-EOA1


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