Getting your pre-disability affairs in order

No one ever plans to be sick or disabled, yet it does happen. While seniors comprise the majority of disabled people in the United States, working-aged adults are not immune to the risk of becoming disabled permanently or temporarily. According to the Council for Disability Awareness, 5.6 percent of working Americans will experience a short-term disability of six (6) months or less due to illness, injury or pregnancy every year. Somewhat more concerning is that one-in-four of today’s twenty-somethings will be out of work for at least one year because of a disabling condition before they reach retirement. The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research reports that 41.4% of all disabled people in the United States were aged 65 and older; however, over half or 51% were working-aged people (18-64). Statistics like these confirm that forward planning is necessary by seniors and others alike to help when an emergency strikes. This article seeks to discuss steps any adult may take to ensure affairs are in order if such an emergency occurs.
Steps for Getting Your Pre-Disability Affairs in Order
A. Identify your important records. While not every person possesses a Last Will and Testament or estate planning documents, nearly every person owns important documents. Important documents may be different for every person. The following lists can help you decide what information is important to you and those that can assist in the administration of your affairs during any disability. A list of documents generally considered important, and that require some safeguarding, include:

Estate Planning Documents
Last Will and Testament
Living Will or Healthcare Directive
Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

Personal Records (any documents containing the following):
Names of pets, veterinarians and pet medications
Full legal name
Social Security number
Legal residence
Date and place of birth
Names and addresses of spouse and children
Location of birth and death certificates and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship, and adoption
Employers and dates of employment
Education and military records
Names and phone numbers of religious contacts
Memberships in groups and awards received
Names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, and lawyer or financial advisor
Names and phone numbers of doctors
Medications taken regularly
Financial Records
Sources of income and assets (retirement funds, IRAs, 401(k)s, interest, and so forth)
Social Security and Medicare information
Insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, car) with policy numbers and agents’ names and phone numbers
Names of your banks and account numbers (checking, savings, credit union)
Investment income (stocks, bonds, property) and stockbrokers’ names and phone numbers Copy of most recent income tax return
Location of most up-to-date will with an original signature
Liabilities, including property tax—what is owed, to whom, when payments are due
Mortgages and debts—how and when paid
Location of original deed of trust for home and car title and registration
Credit and debit card names and numbers
Location of safe-deposit box and key
B. If possible, store important records in two (2) locations. Part of preparing for any disaster or disability is securing your important documents so that you or your loved ones have the information and documentation when a need arises. There are no hard and fast rules about where to keep such documents and information, but the goal is to have everything in at least two places in case one is destroyed or inaccessible. In general, the following locations are considered better than most: (1) Safety deposit box: these fireproof, high security metal boxes can be rented from your bank or credit union for a small annual fee. While they provide greater security for important documents like your birth certificate and Last Will and Testament, they can also be inconvenient if you want to access items when the bank or credit union is closed. Access to the boxes are regulated by the bank or credit union so normal standards require that anyone that accesses your box must be a co-renter, agent, or attorney-in-fact. Also, such boxes are normally sealed upon your death so the accessibility of your Last Will and Testament may be problematic if proper authorization is not assigned to others; (2) Wallet or purse: these compact locations are generally small so you will be limited in the amount of materials you can store. The information best kept in these locations would include your photo identification, medical insurance card, physician contact information, and any prescription information that is important to your health. Obviously, these locations lack sufficient storage space for the bulk of your important papers; (3) Home safe or fireproof file: any such storage area at your home should be fireproof, lockable and light enough for transport if necessary. They are readily available at any large retail store and their cost is not prohibitive. The security afforded by these devices are only as good as the location they are stored, the security of the locking mechanism, and the manner in which they are manufactured. With that written, for the money, these may be the most cost efficient and accessible locations for most Americans. Additional safeguards such as enclosing important documents in waterproof, Ziplock containers within the home safe or fireproof file may provide added relief. The disadvantages of these locations are that the storage containers themselves may be stolen or become inaccessible if your disability occurs while you are traveling or temporarily away from your home; (4) Attorney or professional office: If an attorney is willing to secure your documents in its long-term storage, feel free to keep them there; however, this location enjoys the same accessibility disadvantages of a safety deposit box and there may be a cost to the service; and (5) Online or digital storage: current technology has advanced to the point that almost all important documents may be stored online in digital format. Generally, the service is available for a fee. Storing documents in this manner is very secure but there have been instances of data breaches, online insecurity and the potential of theft. You may share your password with others, so accessibility is available without the need for a written assignment of agent or attorney-in-fact. The biggest advantage to online or digital storage is availability. Generally, your documents are available 24/7 form any computer regardless of your login location.

C. Inform a trusted family member or friend where you stored your important records.
Regardless of which one of the aforementioned storage locations you choose, it is a good idea to tell someone where your important records are stored. Never disclose all your intimate details or the contents of your estate planning documents unless you feel the information will remain confidential and not disclosed to others. If you don’t have a relative or friend you trust, the attorney who assisted with the creation of your documents may be the next best person to help.

Todd Miller formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC in Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006. He is considered a 10.0 attorney by AVVO.com and annually receives that organization’s Top Contributor Attorney designation. In 2018 he was recognized as Advisor of the Year by GolfInc. Magazine. He annually receives the Client Distinction Award by Lawyers.com and he writes and lectures on various legal topics including estate planning and elder law. You may find him on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter and at 1305 Southwest Blvd., Suite A, Jefferson City, Missouri 65109 staff@toddmillerlaw.com, www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838