A Guide to Caretaking for an Elderly Parent: Part 1 – Estate Planning
One of the first steps a person caring for their elderly parent should look into is whether they have an estate plan. Do they have a will? Is there a financial power of attorney? Does Mom have a healthcare directive or living will?
These are just a few of the questions that Part 1 of my blog post series “A Guide to Caretaking for an Elderly Parent” will discuss.
But first, a reality check. People in your position often feel embarrassed that they don’t know about Mom or Dad’s finances, the specifics of what medications they take or where they do their banking. They also feel inadequate that they are not doing enough. Take solace in knowing that this is very normal. There is no course in college or many ways to prepare for suddenly becoming the parent for your own parents. That’s just how it is. You’re going to need to get used to the fact that this is all new, that’s it’s all happening fast and that you can make mistakes and learn from them. It’s just like parenting really. There’s the plan and then there’s life.
Okay, with that out of the way, the first step you need to take is to review what legal documents your parent or parents have put together as part of their estate plan. Look around the house, ask their financial advisor. Are you the power of attorney for Dad? Where is the document? I advise most clients that I do estate planning for to keep their documents in a place that their family can find them, rather than locked up. Start with a search with that in mind.
If your parents don’t have any planning, the next step is to meet with an estate planning attorney like myself so they can determine whether Mom or Dad (or both) have capacity to create an estate plan. That is, do they have the legal ability to make and understand a power of attorney, a will, a living will or a trust? An attorney can make that determination after meeting with them.
If they can make an estate plan, get that done as soon as possible. You’ll need the power of attorney to help them do things like banking, dealing with doctor appointments and filing taxes.
If they do not have capacity, the attorney you meet with may suggest that you get guardianship and perhaps conservatorship over your parent. That means that you will need to file paperwork in the court where they live to be appointed as the legal decision maker (guardian) and financial decision maker (conservator) for them. If Mom does not have capacity, a doctor will indicate that by completing documentation supporting your guardianship petition. The downside is that this may take a couple of months to get resolved. However, once Letters of Guardianship and Conservatorship are awarded, you may assist your parent with whatever they need. You are legally in charge of all the decision making related to their lives.
In Part 2 of “A Guide to Caretaking for an Elderly Parent” we will look at a crucial issue: does Mom or Dad stay at home or do they need to go into long term care?