The holidays are upon us, and many will be traveling to spend time with their families. Living in Florida, we have a lot of “snowbirds” who winter here and, consequently, their families come visit during the holidays (presumably to spend time with their loved ones, but also to get away from the cold weather). This tends to be a time where, if the kids haven’t seen mom or dad in a while, they might be a little surprised at the changes that are taking place. They might notice that mom is somewhat forgetful (more so than the last time they saw her). Or, they might notice that dad has lost a lot of weight and looks very frail (because he has no one cooking for him and he’s not able to cook much for himself). This can be a scary wake-up call to see your parents frail before your eyes and you do not know what to do about it. So how do you handle this?
1. Do not panic. Showing your parents that you are worried and concerned is not necessarily a good thing.
2. Look for resources in your area. In Florida, you can call the Elder Helpline at 1-866-96-ELDER to figure out what resources are available in your area. They can direct you to a Meals-On-Wheels program, or perhaps they can help you find someone who can come in a couple of hours a week to visit with Mom or Dad, do some light housecleaning, or some cooking.
3. Do talk to Mom and Dad about whether they have their basic estate planning documents in order. You might want to even ask to see copies of the documents and ask them how long it has been since they had their legal documents reviewed. Why is this important? If your parents do not have a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Designation in place, no one has the authority to make financial or health care decisions for them. If you wait until it is too late (i.e., when they no longer have the capacity to sign these documents), you could be faced with an expensive guardianship. You may have to go to court to have your parent declared incapacitated and have a guardian appointed – this is an emotionally exhaustive procedure, not to mention expensive way to handle things. The cost to do a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Surrogate designation (depending on where you live) may cost $450 to $650 versus a guardianship which could run well over $5,000. If your parents do not have these documents, I cannot stress how important it is to get those documents in place and you should do so by visiting an Elder Law attorney.
4. If your parent agrees, arrange to have a doctor visit with your parent’s treating physician while you are in town and go to the appointment with your parent. You can get a better idea of what your parent’s medication needs are, whether the doctor feels there are any medical issues that need to be addressed, etc.
5. If your parent is really bad, you may need to have a conversation with him or her about moving closer to family or perhaps moving in to assisted living. I come from a family where the children took care of the parents – my grandfather lived with my parents for about 7 years prior to his death and it was just assumed he would live with my parents when he could no longer live on his own. Not all families are that lucky and it would be a good idea to be aware of the costs of assisted living. There are companies that can help you find suitable assisted living accommodations, or you could talk to a geriatric care manager about what is appropriate for your parent’s needs.
6. Please do not forget that your parents are adults – until someone says that they do not have the capacity to decide where they want to live or to make financial decisions, they have the right to make their own decisions. It is a fine line that we walk when we tell them what they must do versus suggesting what might be best. They raised you. They did a good job of raising you – don’t forget that.
If you have need legal advice about your aging parents and elder law planning, please contact the Law Offices of Laurie E. Ohall, P.A.