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Taking Over the Affairs of Declining Elderly Parents

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With the ease of communication and travel, people are no longer tied to a desk or a particular location for work. This reality means more and more people are moving away from family and friends, creating significant relational and legal issues if an elderly parent starts to decline, and is no longer capable of self-care or financial management. Proper advanced estate planning can make any necessary transitions easier, but adult children facing this situation will still have to make the hard choice as to whether they need to move closer to their aging parents, bring their parents to them, or hire an outside caretaker to assist with daily tasks and a financial manager to address fiscal issues. This decision is never easy, but quick action is often necessary to prevent a massive health decline and to avoid exposing vulnerable elders to individuals wanting to financially exploit seniors. Trying to execute the proper documents once the negative effects of aging start to manifest can greatly restrict and complicate the available options, so addressing the logistical and legal issues up front is the best way to achieve optimal results. Understanding which documents should form the basis of long-term medical, personal, and financial care plans, as well as a discussion of the potential impact of dementia and related conditions on the ability to address parental care issues, will follow below.

Key Documents for Long-Term Elder Care

The powers a person receives once becoming a legally-recognized adult remain in effect even if the practical exercise of these functions is beyond the physical and/or legal capacity of that person. This untenable situation is exactly the point at which unscrupulous individuals will come in to take advantage. However, this scenario can be avoided, and the interests of the parent protected, if the following documents are properly executed:

  • Durable Power of Attorney – In this document, a person, the “principal,” grants authority to make financial decisions to another person, the “agent.” The authority given by the principal to the agent can be as expansive or restrictive as the principal wishes. With elderly parents, this document will allow family members to transfer or sell real estate, access and manage financial accounts, sign contracts, make healthcare decisions, and decide living arrangements. The “durable” designation is key, as it allows the document to remain in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated, which is exactly the situation in which this document is most needed. Specific authority to perform tasks to enable eligibility for Medicaid is absolutely essential.  An experienced elder law attorney can assist with satisfying the legal requirements to create a valid durable power of attorney that will operate as intended.
  • Advance Directives
    • Living Will – Communicating last wishes for medical treatment and level of desired intervention is key to spending one’s last days living with dignity and compassion. While not always recognized as legally enforceable, these instructions do help those with decision-making authority honor the wishes of the impaired individual.
    • Healthcare Surrogate – Designating someone a person trusts to make healthcare decisions when he/she is unable to communicate is an important part of planning for long-term care. By clearly identifying who is the go-to person for medical decisions, care can be provided more quickly and efficiently, as well as reduce the likelihood of disagreement among other loved ones.
    • Anatomical Donation – Donating part of one’s body for medical use or scientific research is becoming more common, but it is important to communicate this intention so family members know to carry it out.

Dealing with Elder Care and Dementia

To make any legal decision, a person needs the ability the understand the nature of the transaction and the consequences of a decision. When a parent develops dementia, this function quickly disappears, and if the appropriate estate planning documents are not already in place, not only will a guardianship be necessary to take over the person’s affairs, but this situation presents opportunities for other family members to challenge any disposition of the estate. An experienced elder law attorney can help avoid this outcome, and ensure all the wishes of the deceased control what happens.

Speak with a Florida Elder Law Attorney

Taking care of a sick parent takes a lot of planning and coordination, but putting in the time and effort to figure out the desirable arrangement from the beginning can avoid complications and unwanted results. William Rambaum has decades of experience counseling clients in elder law issues, and can answer your questions about how to prepare for the future. Contact the Oldsmar office to schedule an appointment.

Resource:

floridabar.org/public/consumer/pamphlet13/

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