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Preparing for the Unknown – Keystone Elder Law – Mechanicsburg, PA

We often encourage folks to prepare for undesirable events such as medical emergencies or the development of dementia by choosing to be proactive and use tools such as powers of attorney, advance directives,  trust planning,  advanced funeral planning, etc.  Recently, I received an email from a reader who shared her frustration about being caught unprepared for a situation involving her parents.  She lived in a different state from her parents, and relied on information provided by her mother, who was the caregiver for her 81 year old father due to his “forgetfulness” and cancer diagnosis.  As sometimes happens, the “healthier spouse” can become debilitated by illness or experience an acute event, and predecease the “ill spouse”.  When her mother experienced a stroke and died two days later, our reader realized how much she didn’t know and struggled with basic questions such as where to find her parent’s insurance cards and what types of decisions her father was capable of making.   The lack of advance planning almost caused an interruption in her father’s cancer care.  While her mother’s death still would have been stressful, our reader recognized that opportunities were missed which could have eased some of the burdens that she was forced to face while grieving.

Not all preparation for the unknown requires the assistance of a professional.  Family discussions are valuable, as is the preparation of an estate inventory.  An estate inventory is basically a list of all of your important information.  If you suddenly were not around or were unable to manage your affairs, what would others need to know?  Where would they need to look to find your personal, financial, and legal records?  If you don’t want to share the details of this information right away, compiling a list of the information and notifying your loved ones as to where the list is located would be an important step toward avoiding potential delays, complications, and costly decisions during an unexpected event.

An estate inventory should include the following information:

Personal:  Legal name, address, and telephone number; maiden or former names; date and place of birth; social security number; parents’ and children’s names;  past and present marital information; emergency contacts; health information including diagnoses, medications, Medicare coverage and other health insurance providers, and physician contacts; employment information;  military service; and your attorney’s name and contact information.

Financial:  Note the name, address, and telephone number of all institutions where accounts are located including savings and checking accounts, CD’s , mutual funds, stocks, bonds, IRAs, credit cards,  insurance policies (life, auto, home, long term care) and debt (mortgage, loans, etc).  Listed with each institution should be account numbers and the type of account or asset.  If you have utilized the services of an accountant or financial advisor, include this information also, as well as documentation of any trusts that may have been established or funeral planning which has been done.  Monthly income amounts (social security, pensions, public benefits) and the sources of income are important. Also list any other assets (real estate, vehicles, art, and antiques, for example).

Home:  If you are living in your own home, or are responsible for utility bills in your place of residence, a listing of provider information is helpful.  Include telephone, TV, and internet service; gas; water; sewer; trash; electric; and home security service.

Other:  Since many people handle financial transactions and bill paying online, knowledge of login information may be essential to access/manage accounts.  Include usernames and passwords when documenting account information.  The combination to a family safe and location of keys to any safe deposit or post office boxes should be listed in the inventory as well.

In addition to a summary of the details listed above, your POA or family members need be aware of the location of important documents which verify this information.  Examples of these documents include:

  • Birth & marriage/divorce certificates
  • Powers of Attorney and Last Will and Testament
  • Social Security card
  • Medicare and health insurance cards
  • Stock certificates
  • Real Estate Deeds
  • Military service records
  • Titles to vehicles
  • Insurance policies
  • Tax Returns (previous 5 years)
  • Family death certificates


A thorough estate inventory, while it may require some time and effort to compile, is free and can provide your family members with peace of mind that important details about your affairs won’t be missed if an unexpected event should occur.

Karen Kaslow, RN