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Advance Care Planning 101: Important Documents

Published on July 31, 2023 in Educational Resources

A couple reviews important documents and talks about advance care planning

In the first two parts of the National Brain Tumor Society’s series on advance care planning, you learned about finalizing your advance directive and determining your health care proxy. When prioritizing advance care planning, it’s essential to gather all important documents to ensure your affairs are in order. 

While this can be overwhelming upon diagnosis, careful planning now may reduce the financial, legal, and emotional difficulties you and your family or care partner may experience. Though it is difficult, discussing practical matters, such as wills and wishes, can eliminate many problems later. 

In the following sections, learn more about key paperwork to gather and finalize as well as ideas for where to save and store your documents.

Which documents are important to pull together?

There are an assortment of personal records, legal documents, and other vital paperwork to consider during the advance care planning process. 

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security number and card
  • Copy of driver’s license
  • Adoption documents
  • Child custody paperwork
  • Citizenship paperwork
  • Passport
  • Marriage certificate/license
  • Divorce or separation records
  • Military ID and/or discharge papers

  • Will
  • Trust(s)
  • Health care proxy form
  • Advance directive(s)
  • Durable power of attorney
  • Funeral instructions

  • Health insurance policies
  • Life insurance policies (be sure to review your designations of beneficiary)
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Copy of your health insurance card(s)
  • Homeowners or rental insurance
  • Auto insurance

Provide details about account numbers and any beneficiaries associated with these accounts. This information will prove invaluable for your loved ones when managing your finances or making important financial decisions on your behalf.

  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts (401k, 403b, Thrift Savings Plan, Roth IRA)
  • Credit card accounts
  • Investment records
  • Stock and bond certificates
  • College savings plan
  • Loan documents
  • Veterans benefits
  • Pension plan records
  • Tax returns from at least the past three years, W-2s, and 1099 forms

  • Property deeds
  • Mortgage papers
  • Rental agreements
  • Vehicle titles (automobile, boat, motorcycle, RV, etc.)
  • Home and product warranties for major appliances and systems like HVAC, water heater, etc.
  • Service contracts for snow removal, lawn care, pool maintenance, etc.

Setting up permissions for your care partner to access your health care portal can help a designated individual coordinate care and increase collaboration between your care partner and your medical team.

  • Diagnosis reports
  • Test results
  • Treatment plans
  • List of current medications
  • Pharmacy of choice

  • Employers and dates of employment, including any employment contracts
  • Pet ownership records (e.g., ID chip numbers and vaccination/medical records)
  • Spare keys for vehicles, safe deposit boxes, etc.
  • Passwords to essential email, social media, phone, computer, bank, and credit card accounts (consider using a secure password manager to store this information and provide the necessary access to your designated representative)
  • Names and contact information for key people and offices:
    • Close friends and family
    • Primary care physician
    • Neuro-oncologist
    • Attorney
    • Financial advisor
    • Veterinarian
    • Religious contact
    • Life insurance agent
    • Childcare or school

Where to save the vital paperwork and information?

By consolidating critical personal records, legal documents, and other essential information into one secure location, you can alleviate stress and provide clarity for yourself and your loved ones. 

Ensure that a trusted family member or friend knows where to look for this information and paperwork in a central location. They don’t need to know the specifics ahead of time, but they should know where they can find it if needed in an emergency.

Physical Storage

While digital storage and cloud-based solutions offer convenience and accessibility, physical document storage remains relevant for a few reasons, including security, data integrity, privacy and confidentiality, ease of access, legal matters, and redundancy. 

Ideally, store these physical documents away from heat and high humidity. Try to keep boxes and binders off the ground to avoid moisture and humidity and to protect them in the event of a flood. Be careful about storage in the basement or attic, where water or critters could damage your documents.

To help organize your documents, you can place papers in plastic page slips and then in a binder. This added layer of protection will help protect them from spills and wear and tear.

Below are a few different ways you can physically organize your important documents: 

  • Fireproof safes (confirm that the safe is, in fact, fireproof and allows you to set a password that you would give to your designated contact)
  • Safe deposit box at the bank or credit union (avoid storing your passport, health care proxy form, advance directive, will, or power of attorney in a safe deposit box)
  • Lockable filing cabinet, dresser, drawer, plastic bins, etc.

Digital Storage

Elderly woman sorts through important documents while advance care planning

While physical document storage has its benefits, combining it with digital storage and appropriate backup strategies is recommended. A well-balanced approach, incorporating both physical and digital storage, can provide each method’s advantages while mitigating their drawbacks.

If your physical documents are damaged or lost, digital files act as a backup and offer an easy way to access your records. Store your digital copies in two locations. For example, you could load your files to cloud-based storage and save them to a flash drive that you store in your fireproof safe or safe deposit box.

You can use a scanner or a mobile scanner app to obtain digital copies of your physical documents. As you save these copies to your computer, clearly name your files and organize them in folders as needed to make it easier to locate specific files later.

Once you have digitized your documents, you have a variety of options for where you can save them:

Wherever you store your files digitally, make sure that the location offers password protection and encryption to ensure your personal information is kept safe. If the service offers two-factor authentication, follow its steps to protect yourself further.

In Conclusion

Gathering and finalizing necessary paperwork can provide peace of mind for yourself and your family and friends. By consolidating essential documents such as your will, financial statements, insurance paperwork, medical records, property documents, and contact information, you ensure that your wishes are known, your affairs are organized, and the people around you are well-equipped to support you throughout your brain tumor experience. 

Seek professional guidance when needed, and don’t hesitate to reach out to trusted individuals who can assist you during this process. 

The content on this website is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute medical, legal, or financial advice. Always consult a professional for your particular needs and circumstances before making any medical, professional, legal, or financial decisions.

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