Getting your house in order before there is a dementia diagnosis

One of the biggest frustrations I have faced is the ongoing scavenger hunt for my parents documents. They believed they had everything in order, but failed to consider that their memories would fade and don’t recognize they no longer have the ability to make reasonable decisions.

This isn’t a new problem and the amount of money involved highlights the enormity of this issue. Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that “state treasurers currently hold $32.9 billion in unclaimed bank accounts and other assets.”  For the past year, Good Morning America has hosted a segment called “Show me the Money” where they help people get connected to money that is rightfully theirs. It’s easy to overlook an insurance policy, deed or even have a bank account fall off the radar screen.

If you have concerns with your loved ones mental health, take the steps now to get the paperwork organized. There are several categories of documents to consider and some just require that you make a copy so it can be easily accessed if needed.

In addition to the standard items typically recommended, I’ve included several that were required as I have walked the journey with my parents over the past year. All these don’t apply to everyone, but should be comprehensive enough to help most Americans.

The Essentials:

  • Will
  • Living Will
  • Do-not-resuscitate order
  • Trust
  • Specific instructions regarding your wishes
  • Durable Power-of-Attorney (many financial institutions won’t recognize this if it is not on their letterhead)
  • Durable heath care power of attorney
  • Location of documents and as needed access to safe deposit box or home safe combination

Personal Documents

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security number
  • Marriage license / divorce papers
  • Driving license
  • Military identification / service records
  • Other professional license numbers

Financial Documents

        Each should include website, user names, passwords and PINs as established.

  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement, investment and brokerage accounts
  • Stock certificates
  • Savings bonds
  • Life insurance policies
  • Loans, debts or mortgage accounts
  • Partnership and corporate operating agreements
  • Tax returns

Medical Documents

  • Personal medical history
  • Family medical history
  • List of prescriptions and dosage
  • List of healthcare providers
  • Medical insurance and any related website, username, password and PIN as established


  • Home, land or cemetery deeds
  • Documentation on any home or land improvements with receipts
  • Auto titles
  • Service plan records, schedules and preferred providers
  • Utility accounts and any related website, username, password and PIN as established

After I pulled most of these documents together, I had enough people ask me about the system I used that I turned it into a business. You can do this yourself, or consider using the guided workbook called the MemoryBanc Register to help get your paperwork organized.

This is a difficult journey and I decided to make the most of the lessons I have learned by launching my business and sharing the many lessons I learn on my blog. Empowered.

I got lost on the way over

I made plans dominofallingwith my Dad to play racquetball and go over the family tree this morning. When my Dad showed up almost a half our late, I was relieved. It wasn’t the first time he showed up late, went missing or lost his way while driving. The look on my Dad’s face was a heartbreaker. I smiled, gave him a kiss and got us back out the door and on the way to the gym.

My Dad now acknowledges that things aren’t the same and he is having trouble remembering really simple things. It’s been a long road to today and we have many more miles to go – but it’s a victory – albeit bittersweet. I’ve noticed many changes in my parents over the past ten years. With two of them, they presented a fierce and united front and have covered for each other and generally resisted any suggestion that their health and mental abilities were changing. I’d suggest considering mental bench-marking or a follow-up visit to a neurologist, and one would agree, and then the other would unravel any plans. This happened time and time again. So I just quit trying.

When my siblings started to experience their odd behaviors, they had to coax me back into trying. I had given up since it was the only way for me to really deal with my parents on a daily and weekly basis. My siblings stepped up to the plate as well and visit quite regularly to help us manage through this transition we are all going through.

As their cognitive decline seems to have shifted into a higher gear, I’ve learned how to better support them and put as much of a safety net around them as they will allow me (and my siblings) to provide, yet the dominoes are starting to topple.

Now the reality is starting to sink in. Bummed.