For so many families, planning for an aging parent’s inability to care for themselves is low on the list until an urgent need arises, such as a diagnosis of dementia. It’s understandable. Life gets in the way. There are children to raise, work issues, and all the challenges of daily living to tackle. And, yet, with no preparation, many families will end up in legal tangles which take time, effort (and money) to straighten out.
We hear often from family members who find themselves overwhelmed with the need to collect documents, organize health records and, even more challenging, get mom or dad to sign papers to enable them to do all of it.
If that sounds like your situation, first know that you are not alone. The best way forward is to take a deep breath and get organized.
Here are five initial steps to take:
- First sit down with your mom, dad or both of them and share the legal needs with them. Explain that you need to work together to make sure that the family is there for them and represents their best interests. Their reaction will tell you a lot about their ability to help, both cognitively and emotionally. You may need to enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member.
- Make a list of all the documents you will need (see our list below). While you do that, make a rough schedule of the tasks ahead of you.
- Hold a family meeting. This is the time to make sure that willing family members pull their weight. If you need to, put it down in writing who is responsible for what. Often family communication problems cause more challenges than all the paperwork and planning.
- Connect with a financial advisor. They will help you identify possible tax breaks, veterans’ benefits, insurance options and plan financially for assisted living or memory care.
- Consider working with an elder care attorney. You’ll know more about your needs as you work through the legal requirements. An early meeting with an attorney, however, can help you avoid legal issues downstream.
Now for the documents. Here are the key documents you will need (not all may be applicable):
- Durable Power-of-Attorney (POA) healthcare proxy
- HIPAA release
- Medical records
- Will or trust papers
- Bank account information
- Debt detail, including bills
- Property deeds
- Insurance policies
- Military discharge records
- Birth, marriage, citizenship, divorce certificates
- Medicare/Medicaid documents
- Pension benefits
There will most certainly be more documents needed as you go through the process of taking charge of care for your loved one. But taking the above steps and securing key documents up front will make it easier to tackle the legal landscape as you and your family begin to navigate the challenging journey ahead.