Becoming The Family File Organizer
Talking To Your Parents About Details

Why would you want to become your family's file organizer? Not only do you worry about your documents, but you worry about your parents also. Does this mean it is up to you?

Every day we hear stories about baby boomers, how old they are, how many are retiring, and the effect they have (always) had on the economy. If you are a baby boomer, or your parents or grandparents are baby boomers, there are some very special considerations you need to make regarding your (their) finances. You may need to take the lead on this in your family. This will assure everyone’s wishes are addressed.

Today’s world holds obstacles and pit falls that the baby boomer’s parents did not have to deal with. If the baby boomers plan as their parents did then there is a potential for trouble. Let me run through some of the situations that will need to be addressed. This will be written from the perspective of the children, but if you are the parent, read and listen. These are issues you are facing.

Before you take the lead on becoming the family file organizer, check with your siblings first. Don’t get into a sibling war at this point. It will only raise the stress level.

The most important thing is don’t ignore this!

Are you the file organizer in your family? Do you help someone with their bill paying and record keeping? Share your experiences with others in your same situation. We all benefit when you contribute your valuable experience.

1) Talk to your parents about their finances

This can be extremely hard to do, but with some careful planning you can get them to open up. It may take some time, stick with it.

Go here and read Caring for Aging Parents and get 5 tips to make this easier.

2) Pay attention to what is going on

When you walk into your parents (or grandparents) home, look around. Do you see something that is out of place? For instance have they purchased anything new? If your mother is 80 years old and you find a subscription to Rolling Stone on her coffee table, you need to ask where she got it and why. Did someone sell her something? Bring this up gently. When you find an instance of this happening make them aware of it. When you act as their file organizer you will know when something is wrong.

My mother started receiving threatening phone calls from someone claiming to have been put in charge of her bills. If she didn’t give him her social security number he was going to have her evicted. She was frightened at first and didn’t know what to do. This, of course, was a scam but my mother felt comfortable enough with me to mention it. Ask questions. Keep on your toes! Beware of predators!

3) Find out what type of estate planning would apply to your parents

Your parents may need more than a simple will. Ask them if they have visited an attorney to plan their estate. You don’t need the details yet you just want to make sure this is covered. If they have not addressed this issue, ask them if you could help find someone they are comfortable with.

If they don’t want to spend the money (which is very often the case even with those that can afford it) offer to help them pay for it. If you have siblings get their permission before asking them to split the costs. Usually an estate planning attorney will do the initial consultation for free. Find someone that will go to your parents’ home if they are more comfortable with that.

Read the section on Estate Planning on this website. It may give you a jumping off point to start the discussion with them. It also is full of good basic information to help you get familiar with the terms of estate planning.

4) Do your parents have their paperwork organized?

Ask your parents if they have their paperwork organized so in case of emergency you can quickly find necessary documents and act in their best interest. If they say they have then have ask them to see the file organizer so you can be acquainted with it. If you notice files may be missing such as birth certificates, etc. this page can help you locate missing files.

If your parents have not dealt with their files and paperwork, let them know that you are available to help them as the family file organizer. You can get this taken care of with some help from them.

Read this to help you get started on helping them as their file organizer.

Easy-PIM can help you with this difficult situation. We have workbooks that will help you walk your parents through their documentation and allow you to become familiar with what they have. Buy a copy of the Easy-PIM Workbook Series. It can help you get that conversation started. You will be thankful you did one day.

Many times the reason they have not done this is it overwhelms them. Take the lead, show them how simple it is, and keep moving them forward.

You can even make this a family project. If you are the file organizer suggest you have an family organizing party. If your siblings are in on this your parents will be more relaxed about it.

If your parents have organized their paperwork ask them to walk you through it so you know where everything is located.

The other side of this can be that your parents have accumulated too much paperwork. If they don't know when to throw documents away, this could cause confusion and make it more difficult for you.

Read our Record Retention Guide for help on when to get rid of documents.

In addition your parents may need a home inventory so you can help them keep track of all their possessions. Read Everything I Own to help you accomplish a home inventory.

5) Discuss with them the day they won't be able to handle their own affairs

Prepare for that day to come. What are their wishes if it does come down to that?

I remember my father coming to me and complaining that he couldn’t balance his checkbook. He said he had worked on it and worked on it and couldn’t find the mistake. I asked him if he wanted me to take a look. On his approval I discovered within one month my father had forgotten how to add and subtract. He was adding checks and subtracting deposits and sometimes not doing anything with the transactions at all. We made an agreement that every month when the statement came in I would balance his checkbook for him.

When my father died my mother had no idea how to manage money. She had never had to pay bills, balance the checkbook, make deposits, etc. She didn’t understand so I took this over as the family file organizer.

Thankfully my parents (and my sister) were comfortable with this arrangement. Make sure you get a sense of what would happen if you needed to step in.

6) Could your parents possible need advanced care?

Is there a potential that your parents may need advanced care like assisted living or a nursing home? Although no one likes to think about this, sometimes it is unavoidable. And though you may now say, “I would never put mother in a nursing home” you may change your approach as she gets older and needs more and more care.

Don’t turn your back, ignore this and fail to recognize it can be a possibility. The sooner you recognize it the sooner you can start planning for it. Look at their parents. Look at family history. Look at their health.

If your parents could possibly need this type of care you need to understand the financial ramifications of it quickly. As the family file organizer you will know if they have the funds to support this. If not you may need to help get your parents Medicaid qualified. If that is the case you need to know the rules and start planning now. Seek out an elder attorney to help you navigate some of this highly technical and tricky law.

These points should give you a good start to begin a conversation with your parents. They may not want to discuss this so try several different approaches. If they won’t talk to you maybe they will feel more comfortable with one of your siblings. Or does one of your parents have a brother or sister than you can ask to help?

Tell your parents this is important to you as the family file organizer. You will be the one dealing with any issues. You will be the one making decisions for them. Tell then you only want to carry out their wishes and would they please help you do so.

After all, every parent uses a little guilt on the children; it can work in reverse can’t it?

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