If there is one term in the English language that creates fear, anger, and procrastination in the hearts and lives of millions it is ‘paperwork.’ Think about it: If someone offered you a million dollars, tax free, but then ended the proposal with the words “…You’ll just have to do some paperwork”, there suddenly comes a dreaded feeling that it will be, in fact, a million dollars worth of paperwork. And somehow the whole thing doesn’t seem as great as it did seconds ago. It goes without saying that anyone involved in procuring long term healthcare for a family member, be it homecare or assisted living, knows full well that the process involves red tape. And lots of it. And in all honesty it will be a task-and-a-half. So how can this all be made easier, and somewhat efficient? Read on…

We all keep records. Or, more accurately, we are all given things we should keep record of. Invoices, receipts, insurance papers; the list is extensive. When we were kids, we never realized how much paperwork comes with being an adult. And now that we do, we probably wish we didn’t. Most of this paperwork comes with official looking boxes, codes, and shaded tables; and tiny little print written in legalese that we squint at and cringe. But the bottom line is that all of this stuff is part of us. It makes up the background that people like hospital billing staff, health insurance agents, social workers, and Veteran’s Administration officials will need in order to make sure the right level of help is provided. It must be stressed as many times as possible in this article: When you or a loved one needs long term healthcare you absolutely, positively will need to provide more paperwork and information than you ever thought possible. The good news is that you should either have it, or be able to get it. The big question is, how to store it?  This can be answered using three basic options:

Option 1: Keeping it until finished addressing the specific requirements, then tossing it. Gone. Done. Out of the way. No messy paperwork to clog up the house after the yearly trip to H&R Block, right? Let’s make it simple here: Do NOT go for Option 1. At some point in the future you will be asked to provide copies of most of these documents, and a number that you never thought you would need. And most likely going back several years, at that. You will need to provide it. You cannot “bluff” your way through not having five years of bank statements, or unpaid medical, or past utility bills. Keep it all and save yourself the anxious cold sweat that comes from realizing that your decision to go for Option 1, has landed you in “Number 2.”

Option 2: The ubiqui-box/bag/carton/drawer. The infamous and avoided storage receptacle that is only opened just enough to push another piece of paper through the top, then shunned at all costs until tax-time, or when filling out applications for healthcare. You know things are in there. Somewhere. And, technically, it is better than Option 1, no? Well, yes. But not a whole lot better. I hate to say this, but: Dump it out, and start sorting. By year, by month, by category. And make some coffee; its going to be a long night.

Option 3: The file cabinet. This can be arranged many ways. Often times it is done using the – shall we say – “less than optimal method.” (see Figure A.) But realistically, logic sort of tells us that if you have gone for Option 3, and actually want to keep things in hanging folders where you can find them, you might as well go the extra mile and take that Saturday afternoon to set it up with those little plastic tab thingies and arrange everything so that you will actually know what is where (see Figure B.) In truth, it may take a couple of hours and tearing into dog-eared envelopes from three years ago, but when you look back at an organized file cabinet it will not be the same look of dread that the Option 2 folks have…


Unkempt File Fig A.Kempt File Fig B.

 The bottom line is that when you or a loved one needs to consider long term healthcare, or the benefits and entitlements to pay for it, there are a great number of documents that need to be provided. Find them ahead of time, MAKE MULTIPLE COPIES, place copies in folders for each of the entities that may ask them of you. (color code the folders, to make it even easier) and have all of it arranged in a place where you can find and retrieve it quickly and easily.

What should you have copies of? Bank statements, ALL1099-forms, yearly social security award notifications, insurance papers, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, lists of business assets, property and real estate (home and rental property) assets, hospital/rehab/healthcare discharge summary, lists of medications, any notes from physicians or rehab staff, automobile paperwork, Life Insurance documentation (most recent face-value and cash surrender value of all policies) Medicaid cards and paperwork (if applicable), Medicare cards, AARP supplemental cards, any hospital bond cards, Social Security numbers. If the person is a veteran of the armed services: Discharge Papers (DD-214) Pay and/or pension documentation, (if applicable) citations, medals/awards, training certifications, medical documents regarding conditions or injuries sustained while on active duty, documents regarding injuries sustained while on reserve. In short; if it is military paperwork, and looks official – you need to make copies of it.

The reality is that nobody can ever truly be 100% prepared for circumstances that require assisted living or homecare. It is a huge issue that comes out of nowhere like a train many times. But by at least having the paperwork you will need organized, copied, and at the ready, it will take a huge burden off of your shoulders in that respect. Trust me when I say, there is nothing like having the ducks in a row to make you breathe a little easier in times of stress like this.

Now… Where did  I put my coffee cup and left shoe…?