Have your parents lost a step? What to do right now…––Miller Law Firm

Have your parents lost a step?

What to do RIGHT NOW before it is too late…

By Aaron R. Miller, Miller Law Firm, Collin County LIVING WELL Magazine

I recently had a chat with someone who was beginning to understand that her father needed more help than she realized. She related the following to me (used with her permission, of course):

My father is really scaring me. But worse than that, he’s scaring himself. My folks live in Spokane, Washington, a very long way from Texas. In the past year, my dad’s SOS messages have become more and more frequent. You see, he thinks I’m a computer guru. He couldn’t be more wrong. But I’ve become adept at logging into my dad’s computer remotely and removing viruses, fixing glitches, and restoring documents. Things that used to be so simple for him now only frustrate and anger him. Dad is losing it and we both know it.

Until recently I could honestly say that I could count on one hand the number of times in my life that I’ve lied to my father. Lately I find myself telling him, ‘No, dad. It could happen to anyone. You’re not stupid. Don’t say that.’ I guess I’m not lying – he isn’t stupid. He’s just getting older.

A few years ago I know my folks updated their wills, powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents. I also know they purchased long-term care insurance. I know, because I asked what funeral arrangements my father would like. I did it casually while mentioning the arrangements I recently made for myself.

What I don’t know are the details of their long-term care policies. I don’t know how much nor how long they will pay, or whether they will pay for at-home care. I don’t know if my parents have life insurance, nor how much equity they have in their home. I don’t know how much they have saved or the details of their retirement income.

I’m their child, and these details have never been any of my business…but I think the day is here that I need to know.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Every week I sit down with adult children who are seeing the beginning of their parents’ declining health or mental state. The need to become a parent’s caretaker is something none of us want to face. Unfortunately, all too frequently, I see children who waited too long to deal with mom or dad’s affairs.

What do I mean?

The loss of mental acuity can sometimes be deceptively slow. A stroke, fall or other brain trauma can trigger a situation where an adult can no longer make decisions regarding his or her own care. At that point two very different scenarios play out. Either the parent has signed a Power of Attorney and other documents naming someone who can take action, or nothing has been put in place to cover the emergency and the family is left to flounder.

For parents with no planning in place, things can be hectic, nerve wracking, and stressful for their adult children. Rather than being able to spend precious time with their parents, the adult children have to run around making a mad dash hoping they can get everything done and feeling guilty about not getting to spend as much time with mom or dad while they can. It’s amazing how often I see this happen.

For parents with their planning in place, things go a lot smoother. The family can focus on mom or dad without having to worry about everything else.

What needs to be done? There are six documents I think are important to have in place.

The foundation of an estate plan is either a will or trust. Rather than feeling mercenary and only after their money you want to make sure your parents have one in place because it can help eliminate squabbles with siblings later on. While dividing liquid assets is important, what is far more important, and what can tear apart families more easily is what happens to the things with sentimental value. Making those decisions now, before there is a crisis, will help reduce ill feelings later on. There is nothing worse than a grieving family also dealing with anger and hurt feelings.

A Power of Attorney is a document that gives your parents’ “agent” the authority to handle their financial affairs, including selling their house, handling personal property, dealing with financial institutions, signing contracts (such as assisted living or nursing home contracts) on behalf of your parents.

A Medical Power of Attorney allows your parents’ agent to make medical decisions, but only if they are incapable of doing it themselves. Decisions an agent might make include whether to pursue a medical treatment, have a surgery, take a medication, and if there is no Living Will, the agent named in the Medical Power of Attorney can make the decision on whether or not to withdraw life support.

HIPAA is the federal law that keeps medical information private. A HIPAA Release can list the agents on the Medical Power of Attorney so that the medical agents can make fully-informed decisions based on the best information available about your parent’s medical care.

A Living Will (what is called a Directive of Physicians here in Texas), allows your parent to decide whether they want to continue on life support or not if life support is the only thing keeping them alive. This document can be overruled if your parent is able to communicate, but it can take a tremendous weight off your shoulders if you don’t have to make that decision or second guess yourself as to what your parent really wanted.

A Declaration of Guardian in the Case of Later Incapacity allows your parent to select who they want to serve as their guardian if they need one down the road. A guardian would be legally responsible for your parents’ person or your parents’ assets (or both).

Although these documents are very important to have, occasionally parents have completed an estate plan, but when it came time to implement the plan, parts were obsolete. Perhaps a law changed, or circumstances changed. Sometimes property was purchased, but not transferred into a trust. Sometimes a Power of Attorney was signed that no longer makes adequate provisions for Medicaid planning.

For that reason, it is very important for people, even though they have their planning already done, to talk with their attorney from time to time to be sure their planning is current.

If you are becoming concerned about your parents and they have never done planning, or if it has been awhile, give us a call today to schedule them an appointment.