What would you do if your parent became incapacitated and/or was unable to make decisions on their own?
We don’t like to think about the time our parents will no longer be with us and we will need to handle their affairs. However, as people continue to live longer the need to first help an aging parent is a more likely scenario.
Here is the hard part and one which most of us put off: Having a frank discussion about the future with your parent. Talking about it may sound callous or uncaring, but preparing for the eventuality is actually quite the opposite. If you explain to them that they would be helping you they’d feel they were still in control and be more amenable to sharing. They should realize working with you and getting all their legal information together now will make it easier when the time comes when they need your help.
This advice I am giving is through hindsight. I did not sit down with my mother and discuss the possibility of the need for me to make decisions on her behalf. Once Mom began having memory problems I gradually began making many decisions for her. Would it have been easier if we had discussed it before-hand? I don’t know. She still might have resisted but been in a more reasonable state of mind.
I encountered a few problems trying to help my mother during her dementia, which I will share, then I will give my recommendations based on what I learned along the way.
What I did do that made the transition less complicated was that I already had Power of Attorney. A few years before, after my father died, I took Mom to her attorney and she had a new will written and a trustcreatedwhich named me as a trustee and gave me POA.
A major symptom of dementia is difficulty working with numbers. So it became for my mother. The first task I had to undertake was paying her bills. It did require some convincing, but she eventually realized she needed help.
What did not go as smoothly was when tried to have my mother’s funds consolidated and moved to one bank. It made more sense to combine her savings and there was no need for two checking accounts. At the bank we were shown to the desk of a customer service representative where I explained that we wanted to close my mother’s account, whereupon the representative looked at my mother and asked “Is this what you want to do?” Even though I had already explained the justification to her and thought she understood, Mom answered, “No.” It took several times of my trying to reason with my mother and her saying, “No.” to ultimately convince her. I can understand the bank was trying to protect her, not knowing if I were trying to coerce her into giving me her money. I also encountered this privacy problem many times over the phone talking to different agencies; they always wanted to obtain permission from Mom first and it was hard for them to understand it would be confusing for her.
One of the more important documents I regret not having is the directive for access to her health information. When my mother was given several tests after I had taken her to the emergency room, I went to the hospital the next day to find out the results. I was denied. What I needed was a paper signed by my mother giving me permission to see her health information and/or speak with her doctors. Another option I could have used was to be appointed to be her health proxy which is a more formal authorization and requires notarization. At this time, my mother was often defensive and contrary, and the chance of getting her to sign such a paperwere slim.
Another advantage I had in overseeing my mother’s legal effects is that she was very organized, as was my father, who left written notes for my mother, so all of their legal documents and papers were easily accessible. I can imagine how difficult it could be if a parent was both disorganized and confused.
Essential Documents Needed for Eldercare
A will and trustlisting who will be acting trustee(s) in their stead
Power of Attorney to make financial decisions
A list of all bank accountsTip: Have your name put on the account so it will be an easy transition. If possible, combine checking and/or savings so they’re all at one bank.
Deeds to property or loans outstanding
Pension documents, annuity contracts
Utility billsor other bills that are paid on a regular basis Tip: When you takeresponsibility for payment, call and have them put on auto-pay.
Medicare and supplemental insurance card informationTip:The cards should be available for the parent to have access to the original, so make copies
Health care proxy and/orHipaa agreement to authorize release of medical information
Medical patient history
List of all medicationsTip: This is extremely important because of the affect they may have on your parent; some drugs cause serious side effects on the elderly.
I have found two excellent, free websites that offer resources to help:
theconversationproject.org has downloadable Starter Kits, one which is specifically designed for the loved ones of someone with dementia
eforms.com has forms authorization for someone to receive health information about a patient which are listed by state. It also explains how to obtain health information