Organizing Your Parent’s Paperwork
Paperwork is a pain for anyone, but it’s especially difficult when it’s not your own. Regardless, it’s so important to try your best to get everything organized if your parent’s paperwork isn’t in order. Otherwise, it’ll be much more difficult to do if you do have an emergency. But before bursting into your parent’s homes to start getting them organized, recognize they may be resistant. My Gram had a whole system for her meds that frankly made no sense to anyone but her. She had everything in sandwich bags and tied with rubber bands and little notes scribbled everywhere, and wouldn’t let anyone touch a thing. You have to remember to pick your battles, and with so much already changing for them, the idea of organizing paperwork can seem like a much bigger deal to them than to you. So before doing anything, talk with them about why you want to get their papers organized and try and compromise if they are still fighting. If your older adult has been hoarding recently and trying to get organized always ends in fights, this may be a sign of a larger underlying problem. But if you are able to get them around to the idea, I recommend taking it slow, and simply doing one step at a time. Unless you’re on a time constraint, this is not something that has to be done in one weekend alone.
1. Gather all the paperwork
If you haven’t been to your parents for a while, it can take days to find and sort through all the paperwork and bills. For some who were there just yesterday, it can also still take days. So for your sake, and their own, try going through one room at a time collecting documents and papers that seem important. Once you think you’re done, you’ll likely open another drawer of important documents haphazardly shoved away, but try and at least get the bulk of it to work with.
2. Categorize and Purge
Once you have about all you can find, start laying things out into categories. Get a large space you can spread out for this, and use whatever system works for you. Boxes you can sharpie label for now, post it note piles, or even just write on a scrap piece of paper each category and lay the papers on top. Whatever works for you, start putting like items together.
This may cover too much, or not enough. But some good general categories most people have include:
Car titles, service and repair receipts, loan information, insurance records, etc.
Education records, paystubs, etc.
Copies of important documents, personal information sheet, insurances etc. (for more information check out this post) if you don’t have copies made already, just make the pile and a mental note to come back later.
Bank statements, loan information, closed accounts, credit card information, credit reports, mortgage information, etc.
Records, health insurance, bills, receipts, past due bills, paid bills, diagnoses letters
Birth certificate, will, power of attorney, marriage certificate
Separate pile for previous years and current year. Current year would include donations, expenses, paystubs, anything that you’ll need to file.
If there are multiple years worth of documents, you may want to make duplicate categories by year. Additionally, purge through anything that you surely won’t need. Yes, some things are definitely worth keeping- but chances are there’s plenty you can recycle as well. If you’re nervous about throwing things away, at least put the questionable items in a pile to run by another opinion. But typically documents such as expired insurances, old receipts, and records for items you no longer have don’t need to stick around.
3. Keep everything in one spot
It’s important you chose a designated area for all your paperwork, so things don’t end up getting lost all over again. What you use to contain your papers is entirely up to your preference. Fortunately, now there are many more attractive options that a heavy steel filing cabinet, but if that’s what you prefer, use one! If you or your older adult is not in a permanent spot, there are plastic options with handles that are easy to move. If you’re definitely staying put, there are more furniture like options available, or more box-like choices you can pop in a closet or a cabinet.
If you’re running a household with multiple children, a partner, yourself, and your parents, I would recommend a larger container that you could separate your families on one side and your parents on the other. If your parents are more medically complex, chances are you’ll also want a larger container. Do your best to eyeball your current stacks to figure out what size you need before buying anything. If there’s tons of important paperwork in front of you after you’ve done a thorough purge, it may be best to buy several smaller containers for each label.
For this, I recommend good old fashion file folders and a label maker. I like to organize things alphabetically into the previously made categories and subcategories. Your system may be different from mine, but overall this is fairly straightforward.
The only thing I would differentiate is your “Emergency” folder. I would still keep things in a hanging file folder like the rest, but additionally, keep a couple sets of copies in ready to go manilla envelopes. This way if there is an emergency, you can just grab the envelope and go.
5. Put away
Once everything is as best labeled and organized as you can, put in a permanent, well kept spot. Since there are so many important documents in here, I would be conscious of the placement. I also would suggest keeping some extra supplies such as folders, files, pens, label maker, etc nearby so if you need to quickly whip up another folder it’s accessible and will keep everything organized as time goes.