Have you discussed the needed paperwork with your aging parents, grandparents, or other older relatives for whom you provide elder care?
Today Dara and I had breakfast with a friend visiting from out of town to help his elderly parents make a temporary move. They need to move from their independent living apartment to another apartment down the hall so theirs can be painted and re-carpeted.
Our friend sees his 84-year old parents a few times a year. On this trip he noticed some significant declines in their physical and cognitive functioning.
His father asked him to help with some financial transactions. This turned into a big effort because of the necessary paperwork to authorize their son to make the transactions.
So we shared with our friend some of the various legal documents that should be created with aging parents or grandparents while they are cognitively alert. Many if not all of these decisions become the jurisdiction of the courts if your aging relative is declared incompetent before these documents are signed. Here is a quick list of key documents you should consider:
- A Durable Power of Attorney. "Durable" means it is permanent. There are also Powers of Attorney (POA) forms specifically for health care or financial matters. But many times both health care and financial matters are combined. A template offered by the state of Pennsylvania can be found here.
- An Advanced Directive. This is also sometimes called a "Living Will." This document helps your loved one to specify what medical care they do or don't want if they become unable to answer for themselves. It is very important that this document be discussed with their primary care physician. A physical copy should also be given to the physician so he/she is completely clear on the intent of your parent or loved one. The link above includes living will language, but the state also provides some additional information and guidance here.
- A Last Will and Testament. This document is more familiar to most people. It allows your loved one to define how their assets (or even pets) are to be disposed of upon their death. Directions about funeral care are sometimes included as well.
We believe these documents are even more important if their are multiple children or other family members involved in the elder care. Without these documents "feuds" sometimes happen among the children. These documents help make clear what the parents want, not what the other siblings want!
But, of course, it can be difficult to introduce this discussion to aging parents. There are some strategies, though. For example, ask their doctor or clergy-person to bring it up. Or perhaps one of their senior friends whom they trust. As difficult as these discussions can be, things can become much more difficult without them.
You don't have to do any of this alone. There are many elder care attorneys who specialize in this area and have the know-how to help you and your family through this maze of documents. Good Luck!