Practical Preparations for the Future


“Excuse me ma’am, but where is your water shut off valve?”


    Donna McCart gives us some sage advice for the family caregiver.


Never would anyone refer to me as a ‘damsel in distress’; however, when my husband was suddenly hospitalized for a brain tumor, in addition to navigating the cancer treatment maze for the newly diagnosed, I also had to deal with bathroom renovations that were in progress at our home.  Two weeks into a complete master bathroom renovation the plumber walked into my kitchen and asked me where the shut off valve for the house’s water was located.  I looked over at my sleeping aphasic husband knowing he would not be able to answer the question, since he could barely remember our address, and thought, “Boy, am I in trouble here.”

I'm sure all of you prepare for the 'just in case' and all of you update your wills every ten years or when things change, as we're supposed to do (cough, cough). Given that, I thought I'd share some of the 'never really thought of' things that I've learned in the past few months that may make your preparation more complete in case of a sudden life change. Now, mind you, this is from my perspective, and I knew some, but not all, of these things. 

Make sure at least two trusted people know where your 'important' information can be located if needed in addition to your significant other and/or adult children.


What is the important information???


Keep (in a safe place) a journal, loose leaf binder, or notepad that contains all of your online information, email accounts, a monthly bills list, your banking establishment and account numbers, Amazon, any monthly orders you have delivered, and any accounts you handle online, along with any sign-ons, passwords, and answers to security questions. 


Keep your security questions factual or make up joint answers. Guessing who was your husband's/wife's childhood best friend, or their favorite pet growing up, or their favorite book or movie of all time may be more difficult than knowing the street they were raised on, the hospital they were born in, or their mother's maiden name.


Make sure your notebook outlines where wills, health directives, key legal papers, power of attorney, passports, birth certificates, social security cards, stock certificates, any titles or deeds, and all the important papers are kept.  Better yet, keep them together in a fireproof safe or locked box and tell your trusted people where that is located. 


Keep one list of service providers or accounts you have including your mortgage, 401k, banks, pensions, IRAs, cable, gas, electric, water, sewer, phone, internet provider, mail order pharmacy, doctor, lawn company, plumber, vet, septic service, general contractor, heating and AC, any special services you order such as snow plowing in the winter, unused lines of credit, credit cards (individual and joint), vehicles, insurance (all types) and where you get your oil changed or car serviced. I thought I knew them all...I did not.  You want to avoid a surprise when you call the cable company to report a problem and they laugh because you have no idea what your account number is, or you have to wait for the next bill to know which of three local electric companies you use.


Keep a full medical history with illnesses, surgeries, etc. in the notebook. 


Keep a short list of key phone numbers with your important papers. In this day and age of cell phones, the art of remembering a phone number is diminishing.


Give at least two trusted individuals keys to all important items and/or keys to your house, and explain to them where they can locate other important keys or items (duplicate car key, sheds, location of lock box, bank safety box, etc).


If you use combination locks anywhere (we use one on the shed at our Pocono house), make sure the combination is written down.


If you do not already know, then find out where the breaker box, fire extinguisher, the gas shut-off, and the water shut-off for your house(s) are located. 


If you have seasonal activities, such as opening a pool, write down or learn the steps, the location of switches, and where the supplies and tools are. (I knew everything but where the actual switch was to turn on the gas heater, which was located in a small box about 10 feet from the unit against a fence.  We looked for an hour and missed it every time until my husband finally remembered.)


Have your own basic tools: hammer, duct tape, screwdrivers, flashlights, channel lock wrench, drill bits, tape measure, etc., or at least learn where they are most likely to be located.


Learn the brands of anything your significant other typically takes care of and where to get them, such as pet/animal food, fire wood or any product that you typically do not buy yourself.


You can purchase specialty binders that will help organize things, although I personally use steno books myself.


I always thought we were very organized and I knew where most of these items were, but it's the one you hadn't thought of that causes you stress when you don't need more stress. I urge you to take time to think it out, talk to each other, note things you do not handle and get them written down.



Donna McCart is the loving wife of Raymond, who was diagnosed with GBM in April 2011.  Ray sadly passed away in March 2012.  Donna and Ray have one daughter, Lauren, in her early 20s, and some non-human babies: Yoshi, an Akita, and Ace, a chocolate lab, in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

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