I recently posed a question on my FB page and asked what topic my followers most wanted to hear about. One of the responses was “Caring for aging parents”. ABC News did a series in 2011 which addressed many of the various concerns. Its a bit dated by now, but I highly recommend reviewing the series as it can answer a lot of questions and provide insight.
From my perspective, the most important thing is to make sure your parents have a Will, Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney. These are basic estate planning documents that all adults, regardless of age, should have in place. They become especially important for older folks because once our mental faculties start to decline, it is too late to draft these legal documents. A person needs to be of “sound mind” and capable of making decisions in his or her best interest at the time these documents are prepared. Ask your parents if they have these documents and where they are stored. (Knowing where these documents are located will help you access them in the event of an emergency.) If they have never prepared these documents, or if they are outdated, then a trip to the lawyer’s office is needed.
What exactly is a Durable Power of Attorney? Check out my article for a more detailed explanation.
For people with large investments and assets, a more complex estate planning strategy should be explored. I can review your basic information and discuss your options. I can even refer you to other professionals for a more detailed analysis and plan.
Most older folks have modest financial assets, and unfortunately the costs associated with long term care are enormous. Often, older folks come to depend on their grown children; either for a place to live or for help with daily care such as meals, grooming, medication, financial management, etc. If your parent is residing in your home, and if they are contributing money toward your household, you should consider drafting a formal document such as a Caregiver Agreement that itemizes what expenses they are paying. A document like this serves as proof of what your parent’s money is being used for, and could be vital evidence for use in a Medicaid application – which may be the only means of paying for future long term care in a nursing facility.
If your parent becomes mentally incapacitated – either due to a medical incident such as a stroke, or progressive decline such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, it may be time to seek guardianship. Being someone’s guardian gives you the legal authority to make decisions for that person, buy and sell their property, and generally manage their life. In New Jersey, a guardian will be required to make yearly reports to the court, and become bonded to insure the guardian acts in the ward’s best interest. If you want to become a guardian for your parent, you should retain an attorney to guide you through the process.
Finally, it is important to remember that there are many older people who become victims of abuse, both physical and financial, by greedy and self-serving family members or friends. Do you remember Mickey Rooney? Did you know he was victimized by his step son? That step-son later settled a civil suit and agreed to repay more than $2.8 million. Sadly, he probably never received it. Mickey Rooney died in 2014 with an estate worth only $18,000. He left it all it to a different step-son and excluded the rest of his entire family.
Mickey Rooney’s case is not an isolated incident. In my practice I am often appointed by the court as a temporary guardian for an older individual. The older population is very vulnerable and I have seen, first hand, how a person’s life savings was slowly stolen by a manipulative family member. Other times, the money is innocently “given away” by an older person who, because of dementia or Alzheimer’s, does not realize the gravity of their decision. Check out this link for tips on how to protect yourself or your older loved ones.
Stay in touch with your aging parent(s) and get to know who they socialize with or with whom they spend time. The more connection you have with them, the faster you will recognize a potential problem. And, if you choose to take a more involved role, make sure you get the legal authority to make decisions. Doing so will protect you and protect your loved one.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact the office directly at 609-904-3020.