Before an aging parent becomes forgetful, terminally ill, or has difficulty handling certain tasks, it is essential to set up a Power of Attorney, or POA. It is important to set up your POA before your parent shows any warning signs, as any individual must be deemed of sound mind to assign power of attorney.
You’ll need a durable power of attorney, which can go into immediate effect. Without a durable POA, if your parent becomes ill, you will not be able to make any medical decisions or even pay bills on his or her behalf.
There are two types of durable powers of attorney: a healthcare POA and a financial POA. A POA for healthcare gives you the authority to make any and all healthcare decisions for your parent. True to name, a POA for finances will give you the legal authority to make financial and legal decisions for your parent.
If you have siblings, you can all be given power of attorney, either individually or jointly. If you hold joint power of attorney, your POA will specify whether decisions must be unanimous. Additionally, in order to prevent abuse by any individual, the power of attorney may also require anyone exercising POA powers to answer to a third party. A POA can also prevent any member from changing your parent’s beneficiary designations of their life insurance policies, or from changing his or her will.
Living Wills and Estate Planning for Aging Parents
Speaking of wills, this is also a good time to discuss your parent’s living will. This can be a sensitive topic for many, but it is an essential aspect of caring for an aging parent. A living will is a legal document that dictates your parent’s preferences for end-of-life health care. A living will goes into effect only when you parent becomes terminally ill. This document should include whether your mother or father is DNR – do not resuscitate – in the case of stopped breathing or a stopped heart.
Finally, if your senior parent does not already have a will, call his or her attorney immediately. This is one of the most important documents for any parent, especially elderly parents. There are several computer programs and websites that will allow your parents to craft a legal, binding will at home; or you can contact their attorney for estate planning help.
- Gather your parent’s personal information:
- Full name
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
- Phone Number and Address, including legal state of residence
- Marital Status
- Health Status
- Names and Phone Numbers for your parent’s physician, attorney, geriatric care manager, and other important persons
- Phone Numbers for family members and your parent’s close friends
- Review your parent’s financial situation and data:
- Income sources (Social Security, pension, dividends, current employment, etc.)
- Monthly and yearly expenses
- Liabilities, loans, liens, etc.
- Have you discussed whether your parent is still able to drive solo? Drive alone at night? Is your parent’s driver’s license current?
Estate Planning and Legal Issues
- Does your parent have a will? Is it up-to-date?
- Does your parent have a living will? Do you know his or her position on DNR?
- Have you prepared all advanced directives, including durable power of attorney?
- If your parent’s assets will be subject to estate tax, have you spoken with an attorney on how to minimize these expenses?
- Has your parent prepared proper letters of instruction?
- Have you discussed funeral arrangement and other end-of-life decisions?
Healthcare and Insurance
- Have you established a POA for healthcare?
- Does your parent have long-term care insurance?
- Does your parent have sufficient health insurance? (Private care, Medicare, Medigap, Medicaid, etc.)
- Does your parent have life insurance?
- Does your parent have other types of insurance? (Homeowners, auto, umbrella liability, etc.)
- Do you have a complete list of your parent’s daily medication schedule?
- If your parent still lives independently, have you prepared a repair and maintenance checklist?
- Is your parent’s living situation safe and comfortable? If they have trouble negotiating steps, is one-level living possible? Are doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, if necessary?
- Have you discussed your parent’s housing options and preferences?
- If a change in housing is required, have you discussed your parent’s preferences and reached a satisfactory agreement?
- Does your parent currently require home nursing care?
- Does your parent require skilled nursing care?
- Have you discussed the possibility of adult day care?
- Does your parent have sufficient income, pension and/or savings to support his or her lifestyle?
- Is your parent of sound mind to make financial decisions?
- Is your parent’s asset allocation suitable?
- Have you established a POA for finances?
- Does your parent need to consider Medicaid?
- Will your parent be dependent on you, your siblings, or other family members for financial support?
- Do you or other family members have sufficient financial resources to support your parent, if your parent cannot support himself?
- Should you or other family members’ names be added to bank, utility and other accounts?
- Has your family discussed and decided upon distribution strategies?
- Have you prepared with your parent a list of important records, documents, and other credentials? These may include:
- End-of-life paperwork, including a living will, will, letters of instruction, and advanced directives
- Identifying information, such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate or divorce certificate
- Citizenship records
- Military records
- Investment records, including stock certificates and bonds
- Bank account information, including checkbooks and bank statements
- Retirement plan information
- Income tax records (at minimum, for the previous three years)
- Credit card statements
- Monthly bills
- All property ownership records, including mortgages, real estate deeds, and car titles
- Business agreements
- Medicare and health insurance policies
- Other insurance policies
- If your parent owns interest in a business, have you already discussed his or her wishes in the case of legal incapacity or death?