How to maintain your papers carefully and avoid agony for others

“I just cannot understand why the authorities in India should take so long to settle the pension and other formalities of my father who died two years back. I had to make three trips to India to sort out many problems,” grumbled an NRI settled in the United States. He found fault with the administrative system and delivery services in India. His colleague listened patiently and said that in the case of her father-in-law it was all so simple, and her husband could settle the matter within a few days in a single trip. How was that possible?

When they discussed over a cup of tea, the man realised that his father, a retired official from a public sector undertaking, had not kept essential documents in order when he died of heart attack. He was easygoing, rather careless in handling papers. He did not give his wife any details despite her asking, and for some bank deposits he had not provided nominations. Important documents on immovable properties were kept in a haphazard manner. He had lost his nativity certificate. He had misplaced the ration card and it took months to renew it with a new address. While acquiring his share from his uncle of the ancestral property in a village, he had failed to collect original base documents.

His casual attitude landed the family in a lot of problems; the woman was helpless. Neither relatives nor friends could help her. With her only daughter she had to run from pillar to post. Her elder son had to come all the way from the U.S. to set things right, and it took almost two years. Whose fault was it? Can the system be criticised in such a case?

Conversely, his colleague narrated how her father-in-law was meticulous and methodical in keeping documents in separate files with labels and numbers: pension papers, bank certificates, life insurance papers, property details, assets, and liabilities. He left a will on how the property should be shared among his wife and children. His ATM cards, medical files and so on were properly maintained, and when he succumbed to an accident, the family did not find it difficult to access essential materials. His wife got the benefits without much problem. His son came down from the U.S. to attend to his father’s last rites and settled matters in a couple of days, which helped his younger brother and sister to take care of mother.

So such delays are not always the fault of the authorities; it is up to individuals to take care of documents. These two cases reflect mindsets. We can find both kinds of people among senior citizens.

There is also a third group where the retired person leaves all the documents, materials and matters to his wife with full confidence since he knows his own limitations and, forgetfulness. He knows she has the patience to deal with things better than himself. In such cases, the wife will be careful in handling situations with the authority vested in her.

In case of any emergency, there will be no problem or inconvenience. There are some who will neither handle things properly nor trust their wives. Such families come to face problems.

In a fourth group, a senior citizen will entrust all the responsibilities with necessary documents to his son, if he happens to stay with him in the same house or even in a different location. The elder will have no tension as the son’s family will take care of things, leaving him enough time to engage in spiritual or religious activities. Children must take an interest in knowing all the details.

A senior citizen must pay attention to maintaining documents to enable family members to access them when needed. He can create separate files to keep important documents.

Some of these are pension details with wife’s entitlement properly entered in case of his death, with the concerned bank’s account numbers, and a copy of the PAN card; bank pass book, cheque book details, ATM passwords and fixed deposit receipt copies (in case the originals are in a locker) with nomination of wife and son or daughter entered; Life insurance documents; papers pertaining to immovable properties, with copies of registered documents of land/house (with originals in the locker); list of movable properties like gold, silver, jewels; vehicle ownership details; and a will to facilitate sharing of properties by wife and children.

Liabilities, too

A list of any liabilities such as loans taken for the house, education, marriage, and any refund details also need to be maintained. Close family members must be familiarised with details of the files.

The group of files, labelled aptly as ‘leaving behind’, must be in the safe custody of the family so that dealings will be much easier for others when a person departs suddenly.

(The writer’s email is

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