Setting up an important documents notebook written over a picture of a notebook

Hey caregiver, have you set up a notebook of your loved one’s important documents? If you’re a caregiver of a family member with dementia, this blog post is for you. 

It’s about setting up a “container” that will save you time, make you more organized (who doesn’t love that!!!), and save family history.

what an important documents notebook is

An important documents notebook is a notebook or file, that has information pertaining to your loved one with dementia, that serves as a ready reference book that could easily be picked up and taken with you as needed. It’s similar to a grab and go binder that you may have seen ideas for on Pinterest. Instead of it being for your family it’s for you as the caregiver.

why i created this personal document organizer

There were 3 reasons that all kind of worked together to get me to create this notebook.

The first was that Mom had papers in several places in the house. Some were in her room downstairs, some were in a box on the kitchen floor and the rest of her files were upstairs where I was trying to keep track of her bills and paperwork.

(You can read about my story with my mom in this related post.)

I had been clearing out Dad’s stuff that Mom hadn’t gotten to and I came across some documents in an old shoebox. I found his military discharge paperwork, Mom and Dad’s marriage certificate, their cemetery plot information, and the deed to the house. For family history’s sake, this was all stuff that I wanted to hang on to.

But here’s what really made me think that I needed to do something. I had this terrible thought one day – What if something happened to me and I ended up in the hospital, or worse, and couldn’t take care of Mom and the house bills? Would my brothers (whom all live out of town) know what to do and where everything was? Would they know what medication Mom was to take and when and who all the doctors were? 

That last reason is what spurred me into taking an old notebook I had from my teaching days (see photo below). It was a 3 inch 3-ring binder. I put Dad’s stuff that I found in it and then I added Mom’s stuff.

Blue 3-ring binder full of Mom's important documents
Mom's 3-ring binder open showing a document in a clear plastic sheet protector

what to use

Chances are you might already have something in your house that you could use. This “container” doesn’t have to be a notebook. Here are some other ideas:

  • An expansion pocket or a large legal envelope

  • A box, such as the fancy ones that are sold at Hobby Lobby or Jo-Ann Fabrics

  • A file box with handles

  • A basket

You may not want to decide what to use until you see what all you have collected to go into this container.

If you decide to go with a large binder, you can put the documents and other items into clear plastic sheet protectors to avoid hole punching.

what paperwork to include

The list could be very extensive but I’ll leave that up to you. Below is a list of a few documents that I included in Mom’s notebook.

  • Medication list

  • Doctor’s names, addresses and phone numbers

  • Any pre-existing medical conditions that a doctor may not know about

  • Her DNR preference and other medical-related documents

  • Copies* of her legal documents

  • Social Security Card, Birth Certificate, Copy of Medicare card, copies of any other insurance cards

  • Copies of credit cards

  • Mom had handwritten notes about what she wanted done for her funeral – music, poems, a display of her artwork

  • An obituary if you have one written out and a small picture

* The originals were kept in a safe.

Remember – this notebook is up to you and it’s for YOU. You include whatever you think you’d like to have easy and fast access to in the event you and your loved one need to leave the house in a hurry. Or, if something happens to you, then somebody else knows where it is and can get to it.

How to organize the important papers

I kept this notebook as simple as can be. I put the paperwork into the clear plastic sheet protectors and that was it. You could also use pockets as shown below. I didn’t use dividers. Or tabs. No table of contents. K.I.S.S. as far as I was concerned.

clear plastic sheet protectors and slash pockets for important documents notebook

If you want to be really organized and super neat, you could use dividers or tabs and just group the paperwork by category.

reasons why you need a personal document organizer

  1. Because you never know when something could happen to you as the caregiver for your loved one.

  2. Let’s face it, elderly people have accidents. Sometimes you have to leave the house in a hurry so you want something you can grab and go that will have info that a hospital might need to know.

  3. Mother Nature and weather conditions – tornado, hurricane, flood or fire – these are situations where you would want to grab this notebook and take with you.

  4. Saves time – you aren’t running around the house looking for that document you know you saw last downstairs in the living room.

  5. Efficient – goes with time – having everything in one place saves time.

  6. Receptacle for family history – you can keep things related to family history in this notebook such as marriage certificates, birth and death certificates, etc.

  7. Useful for handling the estate process – Mom’s notes were invaluable as far as the funeral planning.

where to keep it

I would highly suggest that you put this notebook of personal documentation somewhere in your house that is close to your bill paying area, an office, or a bedroom rather than a safety deposit box or the home safe. You want that file readily accessible in case you need quick access and bank hours will impede that.

You probably don’t want to put it anywhere your loved one with dementia can get a hold of it. I know that sounds harsh, but if your loved one likes to cut, glue and create things like my mom did, you wouldn’t want these items where they can find them.

Decorative boxes and a basket to use instead of a notebook
Alternatives to using a notebook

let siblings/family members know the location

Once I had my location set, I let my brothers know where everything was and what it looked like. I told them it was a blue 3-ring binder and that it was upstairs in their old bedroom on the desk.

Notebook with the words How to set up an important documents notebook

be prepared

Whatever you use for this personal documentation organizer/binder doesn’t have to be fancy. Just put something together. It’s better to be prepared than to have to scramble around your house hunting and gathering all the information or worse, having all that information wiped out by Mother Nature.

You could always scan the documents and information and have that filed away somewhere as well. That’s probably a good idea anyway.

I’m not that much of an app person, however, an alternative to having an actual box, notebook, or container is to use an app like Evernote and store the information that way. The basic plan is free and you can use it on 2 devices.

If you need some ideas of what to do with the notebook – check out my Pinterest board here.

Oh, and by the way – create a notebook for yourself as well while you’re at it!