Have you taken the initiative to help your aging parents plan for the future? I bring this up because I’ve been the caregiver for an elderly family member for about ten years now. Every few months I get a call from a desperate son or daughter whose mom or dad has had a life-changing health event: a stroke, heart attack, or the diagnosis of an aggressive cancer. They are grieving and bewildered. They have so many questions.
If you have not planned ahead with your elderly parents, I urge you to consider doing so. There are a few things that you can do now that will help greatly down the line.
First, who will pay mom or dad’s bills if they should become unable to do so? Ask them their preference while they are able to make the decision. Then ask them if they would like to consult with an eldercare attorney to have “power-of-attorney” forms completed. This is much easier to accomplish when the senior can sign the form personally. They can also have alternates listed in the event that the chosen power-of-attorney is unavailable. It goes without saying that a POA should be someone that your parent trusts completely to handle their finances. After completing the legal forms, have the elder go to their local bank branch with their POA and sign the bank’s own power-of-attorney forms. Some banks require their own forms in addition to the legal documents.
While dealing with that lawyer, make sure that mom or dad’s will, living will and health care proxy forms are completed or up-to-date. They may not want the same person who is the POA to be the one who makes the health care decisions for them. And hospitals often ask for a copy of a living will after a person is admitted with a serious illness. The lawyer can also advise as to whether there are other forms which need to be addressed.
The newly chosen power-of-attorney should go over the finances in detail. What are the household sources of income and how are they received? What bills must be paid monthly? Are they paid by check, online, or automatic draft? Every bill is important, but at this time it would be critical to be sure that health insurance premiums are kept up to date.
Another area to explore is whether your parent would want to go into a facility if unable to care for themselves, or would want homecare. Discuss the feasibility of their living with a family member, if possible. Facilities can be expensive, but require less engagement from the family. Homecare can be more difficult to monitor if family members all live outside of the area. Some seniors both live with family and have home health aides so the younger relatives can hold jobs outside of the home.
If you have one parent that takes care of the other, it is very important to decide what would happen if the healthy, caregiving parent has a health emergency and is hospitalized. It is crucial to have a plan as to who will temporarily take on the role of caregiver to the dependent parent in such a situation.
Having these decisions on paper can alleviate part of the difficulty when a parent has a catastrophic illness. The family can then devote all of their time toward aiding in their parent’s recovery. This may not be the most comfortable conversation to have with aging parents, but there may come a day when you are very relieved that you took the time to explore their wishes.
Source: personal experience