Vital Documents To Have On Hand When Caring for an Older Adult

If you're caring for a parent, it is crucial to keep a file, both physical and digital, of their vital documents. This list will get you started.
vital documents

If you are caring for a parent or a loved one who is suffering from a terminal or high-risk health condition, there are a number of vital documents that you should have prepared and on hand so that you can avoid delays in addressing their critical needs.

Once you have these documents collected, the next step is to be sure they are securely stored in a central place—both physically and digitally.

Maintaining original copies of any legal or government paperwork is of course important, but its arguably even more important to keep things organized, quick to access, and shareable. This is why it’s so urgent to get them scanned and uploaded to a secure and shareable vault. We recommend WayWiser’s Family Vault for this exact purpose.

If you’re already using WayWiser’s care coordination tools, simply log into your account via your desktop computer to begin uploading documents today. If you aren’t yet signed up, you can sign up for free right now and invite a few key people to your Trusted Circle to begin coordinating care. Beyond the simplicity and the ability to share information with key members of your family, WayWiser integrates the highest security standards which is why it is one of the best solutions for all of your vital documents.

Because the content and requirements for some of the documents listed below may vary from state to state, it’s best to consult an attorney for help with the preparation of some of them.

Here’s A Rundown of Key Vital Documents When Caring for a Loved One:

  • Living Will
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
  • POLST (Physician Orders of Life-Sustaining Treatment)
  • DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)
  • Organ & Tissue Donation Directive
  • Authorization to Release Healthcare Information
  • Medical History
  • Health Insurance Records
  • Last Will & Testament
  • ID Cards
  • Birth Certificate
  • Bank Account Details
  • Pension Documents
  • Stock Certificates
  • Tax Returns
  • Business Agreements
  • Property Deeds
  • Vehicle Titles
  • Credit & Loan Paperwork
  • Trust Fund Agreements
  • User Names & Passwords

Advanced Directive

looking at a will

An advanced directive is one of the most important documents you will need to have in place for your loved one. It is comprised of four main parts. These are: 

1. A Living Will

The purpose of this legal document is to clearly outline your loved one’s future healthcare decisions for if such a time comes that they are unable to make decisions for themselves. A living will only comes into play if your loved one is permanently unconscious or has a terminal illness. The content of the living will should include such details as the type of medical treatment your loved one would want or not want to receive in such situations.

For example, tube feedings, dialysis, life support, or resuscitation. Before a healthcare team initiates a living will, two physicians are required to confirm that your loved one is permanently unconscious or has a terminal illness. Your loved one may end or retract a living will at any time. Laws regarding living wills vary from state to state so you should check your state laws or speak to an attorney. 

2. Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (POA):

A POA, also known as a medical power of attorney, is a legal document in which your loved one can name you to be their agent when it comes to making medical decisions if they become unable to do so themselves.

Before a POA is initiated, your loved one’s physician must certify that they are unable to make their own healthcare decisions. If you are not sure of your loved one’s wishes in a certain medical situation, you can make a decision based on what you think they would want. POA laws vary from state to state, so after talking to your loved one and their healthcare team, consult an attorney.

3. POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment):

This is a legal form that differs from an advanced directive but enables your loved one to describe their wishes for future healthcare. POLST documents are comprised of a specific set of questions that your loved one can answer. Once the form is complete, they can have their physician sign it for them.

The questions deal with decisions that may arise during a medical emergency. For example, whether to go to a hospital, use CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), or life support. EMTs and paramedics can not use an advanced directive. However, they are able to follow the instructions on a POLST form.  

4. Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders:

Resuscitation is the process whereby medical personnel will try to restart your loved one’s heart and breathing using methods such as AED (automated external defibrillator) and CPR. In some cases, doctors may also use devices such as ventilators if your loved one needs continued assistance with breathing.

A DNR order means that if your loved one stops breathing or their heart stops, medical personnel will not do anything to keep them alive. A DNR order is only valid when your loved one is inside the hospital.

Outside the hospital, your loved one will need to wear a medical bracelet or carry a wallet card or other DNR document. Check your state’s laws, as some have standard DNR forms that are valid outside of the hospital. The non-hospital DNR is valid when your loved one is at home or out and about. It is intended for Emergency Medical Service (EMS) teams. A non-hospital DNR must bear the signatures of your loved one and their physician.  

Other Vital Health Documents

looking at health documents

Organ and tissue donation

Your loved one can include their organ and tissue donation wishes in their advanced directive. Many states also add instructions to driver’s licenses.  

Authorization to Release Healthcare Information

The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides legal standards for keeping a person’s health information and records private. It is illegal for healthcare professionals to share details relating to your loved one’s health and medical care unless they give you their written consent in the form of a HIPAA authorization. This document authorizes medical professionals to share information with your regarding your loved one’s healthcare status and billing information.  

Medical History

Whenever your loved one needs to see a new medical specialist or to visit a different clinic, hospital, or dentist, you will need to give the healthcare provider a full medical history. Maintaining a file with all this information can make life easier—hence our encouragement of a secure app such as WayWiser. You can make sure you always have it with you each time you go for an appointment and update it as you go. 

Health Insurance Records

Long-term health insurance documents are important as they provide information relating to continuing healthcare. You should be familiar with these policies and understand whether your loved one has:

A traditional, stand-alone policy: Life a home insurance policy, with a stand-alone policy, you pay an annual premium, and you file a claim as and when needed. This type of policy does not accumulate cash. 

A hybrid policy: A hybrid life insurance policy with a long-term care attachment is designed to provide your loved one with partial or full income tax-free death benefits. It also covers long-term care.

A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) package: An insurance package with a CCRC typically provides an insurance package with unlimited lifetime benefits.

Health insurance information should also include copies of your loved one’s Medicare or Medicaid Card, and a copy of any supplemental health insurance card. These must be presented any time your loved one requires any form of healthcare.

Vital Legal Documents

legal document being signed

Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament provides guidelines for how your loved one’s belongings will be divided when they pass. In many cases, it can be advantageous for the person you are caring for to have a will, particularly if their estate is sizable. If you are the executor, it can make your job much easier. A will can easily be drawn up by consulting an attorney or an estate planner.

ID Cards

There are many reasons, other than medical ones, why you may need to show one of your loved one’s IDs. For example, you may be traveling, opening a bank account, or renewing a license. Make sure you know where all forms of ID are and keep copies, including digital copies, of your loved one’s driver’s license, passport, and social security number.

Birth Certificate

Birth certificates are possibly one of the most misplaced legal documents. They are important and you will need to know where your loved one’s birth certificate is. If applicable, it’s a good idea to also know where their marriage certificate is as you may need it when it comes to proving the lineage for social security payments or other matters. Make sure you keep copies of these documents.

Vital Financial Documents

financial documents

There are many occasions where you may need to use information from your loved one’s financial documents.

For example, if you need to help your loved one with an application for benefits, you will need to demonstrate their financial needs and provide documentation in support of their current finances.

If you or your loved one are unable to find the relevant documents such as bank statements or tax returns, this could significantly delay the application process. Keep track of all financial documents, including:

  • Bank account details and bank statements
  • Pension documents, such as 402(k)
  • Stocks certificates and savings bonds
  • Tax returns
  • Business operating agreements or corporate partnership agreements
  • Property and land deeds
  • Vehicle titles (including boats)
  • Details of credit, loans, and debts
  • Details of trust funds

User Names and Passwords

You may at times need to use your loved one’s online accounts and for this, you will need to know their user names and passwords. You may also need other details such as pin numbers. Make sure you keep this important information very safe, in a place where no one else can access it. 

Storage Solutions for Vital Documents


Once you have collected all these documents, you must keep them in a safe place where you can access them easily as and when you need them. It’s a good idea to file appropriate documents together in folders and store them in a fire-proof safe.

You also need to consider keeping backup paperless records by scanning the documents and saving them onto a secure cloud server, like WayWiser. This will enable you to send out documents if you need to. Bear in mind that in some cases, a digital copy may not be accepted and a document will need to be presented in physical form.

However you decide to store your loved one’s documents, make sure they are organized so you can find what you need quickly and accurately. It’s worth taking the time to develop a system that works best for the person you are caring for and yourself. 

Have another question? Ask an expert.

Our team is here for you. If you have a question about caring for an older adult or other member of your family—be it physical, legal, medical, financial, or anything in between—we’ll have one of our Trusted Advisors get back to you ASAP.

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