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Taking care of your aging parents is a situation we all may have recognized as a likelihood, but unfortunately only about half of Americans actually have what they need to do so.
In order to care for your parents from a legal perspective, there are some documents they must have in place. These documents cover their care from help with managing their money, their illness or incapacitation, to how to handle their estate once they pass.
Of course, this article does not constitute legal advice, so please consult with a qualified attorney in the state where your parents reside.
The 5 most essential documents your parents should have
1. Medical Directive. Also known as an Advanced Directive. This document establishes the level and extent of care your loved one wants to receive when they become ill or incapacitated.Your Medical Directive will state whether you want artificial support for breathing and eating, such as a ventilator and feeding tube. The Medical Directive ensures the wishes of the elder are respected at the end of life and provides clarity and guidance to family members.
2. Power of Attorney for Healthcare. A power of attorney for healthcare allows you to make healthcare decisions for your loved one. By appointing someone in advance with the power to make healthcare decisions for your loved one, fast and effective decisions can be made in the event of illness or incapacity.
3. Power of Attorney for Finances. A power of attorney for finances allows you to manage your loved one’s financial affairs, pay bills, sell property, contract for services, rent property, pick living arrangement, and so on.
Four types of Power of Attorney:
1. Limited. A limited power of attorney gives someone else the power to act in your stead for a very limited purpose. For example, a limited power of attorney could give someone the right to sign a deed to property for you on a day when you are out of town. It usually ends at a time specified in the document.
2. General. A general power of attorney is comprehensive and gives your attorney-in-fact all the powers and rights that you have yourself. For example, a general power of attorney may give your attorney-in-fact the right to sign documents for you, pay your bills, and conduct financial transactions on your behalf. You could use a general power of attorney if you were not incapacitated, but still needed someone to help you with financial matters. A general power of attorney ends on your death or incapacitation unless you rescind it before then.
3. Durable. A durable power of attorney can be general or limited in scope, but it remains in effect after you become incapacitated. Without a durable power of attorney, if you become incapacitated, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. A durable power of attorney will remain in effect until your death unless you rescind it while you are not incapacitated.
4. Springing. Like a durable power of attorney, a springing power of attorney can allow your attorney-in-fact to act for you if you become incapacitated, butit does not become effective until you are incapacitated. If you are using a springing power of attorney, it is very important that the standard for determining incapacity and triggering the power of attorney be clearly laid out in the document itself.
4. Revocable Trust. A revocable living trust is one of the single most important documents for older adults — or anyone with assets — to have in their estate plan. It functions as a will, allows their estate to avoid probate, makes a potential guardianship process unnecessary, and gives them control of their assets for as long as they’d like or are able to manage them. They don’t need to be rich or have vast assets — a life insurance policy, checking account, house, or any asset of value merits establishing a revocable living trust.
5. Will. A will is a legal document that lets your loved one tell the world who should receive which of his or her assets after death. It is not just for the elderly. Everyone, especially those with dependent children, should have a will because it allows them to name guardians for any dependent children. Without a will, the courts decide what happens to the assets and who is responsible for the kids.
- If no one in your family can fill the role of POA, a geriatric care manager can help. You can find one at aginglifecare.org.
- The National Hospice and Palliative Care Association provides many of these forms free at careinginfo.org.
- Adding a HIPPA release gives you access to your parents’ health records and is a good idea to get with the POA for healthcare.