Protecting What is Valuable When We are Vulnerable

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on November 16, 2015 # Health

Those of us living with paralysis are no different than the rest of the world when it comes to legal issues and our finances. The presence of a disability has no bearing on some decisions we should make to protect our assets, and our families. As an example, we must carry insurance on our automobiles and homes in case we injure another driver, passenger, pedestrian or visitor and are sued for damages.

Although not required, it is also important to have some basic paperwork in place that will help our families or heirs deal with our needs in case we become incapacitated or as our inevitable death approaches. As I have learned with the recent deaths of my parents, incomplete or missing paperwork can complicate or delay the processes leading up to and following our passing.

A Living Will, Advance Directive and Power of Attorney can assure that we are treated appropriately when undergoing healthcare when incapacitated. Our Drivers Licenses should indicate the desire to become an organ donor when appropriate. A Last Will & Testament can assure that our belongings, no matter how meager, are shared with the charities or family members we leave behind in a manner that we would approve. It can also assure that our bodies are treated appropriately, whether donated for research, buried or cremated. Too many people delay preparing such paperwork, as they figure they can always do it later. In too many cases, there may not be time or the ability to do that paperwork when it is really needed.

Important items (or at least copies of them) like life insurance policies and the above documents, as well as a list of passwords, college transcripts, passport, driver's license, address lists, your social security card, a copy of your home mortgage, credit cards, recent bank statements, vehicle titles, insurance policies, list of beneficiaries and other important papers need to be stored in a safe location and copies shared with a trusted family member. A list of any investments, like stocks and real estate, should also be included in the items which you need to store and protect.

Those of us who are paralyzed or living with some other type of significant disability have some additional complications when it comes to storing and protecting our confidential information, especially if we require the services of caregivers and other "outsiders" on a regular basis. We often struggle with keeping items secure while still making that important paperwork readily available in the event we become incapacitated.

A common recommendation is to rent a safe deposit box at a bank in order to store important documents and valuables. People with limited mobility or dexterity may not be able to access such safety deposit boxes on their own, and may not have a secure place to store such items at home. Having a safe at home is a good idea, provided it is large enough that some thief can't pick it up and haul it away with all of your belongings inside. That is why it is important to have a trusted family member who can store such valuable documents in a secure manner and have them immediately available when needed. The fewer such items that are available to caregivers or other household visitors, the better.

I learned the hard way about the meaning of security in my home. The first lesson came early, as my first caregiver decided to "borrow" my wheelchair van without my knowledge one night (which was easy to do since I was in bed) in order to move his household items into his new apartment. He ran out of gas on the freeway and, in trying to get it restarted, he drained the battery so completely that it required me to purchase a new one. Needless to say, the length of time he worked for me was very short after that incident.

At one time I kept important papers, including the blank checks needed for payments, in a rotary file folder on the top of my desk. It was easy for me to access them, and I had faith that those who were hired to be my caregivers or do housework were good people. It didn't turn out that way, as someone stole several pages of blank checks and sold them to someone skilled at identity theft. The person who cashed the checks was eventually arrested, but was unknown to me and not penalized otherwise. I received my money back, but never did discover who had actually removed those blank checks from my home. I still wonder what else they removed at the same time, or during their many other opportunities to do so.

Increasing home security is a bit more complicated if caregivers or other people who assist you are going in and out of your house on a regular basis. Keeping confidential records out of the reach of visitors is a good first step. If no family member is available or willing to assist with bill paying or similar tasks, check with a local independent living center or senior center to see if someone is willing to volunteer--preferably someone who is bonded and insured by the organization.

How many copies of house keys have been given out to caregivers, and has there been an opportunity for them to make additional copies? When caregivers leave, or are fired, don't delay in changing electronic door codes or door locks. The fees charged by a locksmith will seem minor when compared to the damage that can be done by a dishonest person who has access to your home and the confidential or financial information they find there.

It is not necessary to be distrustful to be safe, but it does require vigilance and some common-sense security practices. How safe, or vulnerable, are you?

© 2015 Michael Collins | Like Mike on Facebook

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.