Understandably, not everyone is comfortable talking about what will happen as they age and their health begins to suffer. If your aging parents are willing, however, a brief conversation about their wishes can make the process easier when the time comes. The main question is who will take care of their finances and make health care decisions for them when they are no longer able to do so themselves.
A power of attorney is the document that officially states who should take over. There are two different types of power of attorney: financial and health care. These are only relevant during a person’s lifetime, not after death.
A financial power of attorney gives someone else the legal authority to pay bills, manage investments, deal with banks or mortgage companies, and other tasks that might become necessary if your parent is hospitalized for a long time or if they suffer from Alzheimer’s and can no longer make sound decisions. The power of attorney can go into effect the moment it is signed, or it can state that it goes into effect the moment a person becomes incapacitated. A power of attorney only is valid during a person’s life. After a person passes away, the administrator of their estate will handle assets, debts and other financial issues.
A health care power of attorney, also called a medical power of attorney, authorizes someone to make decisions about health care when the person can no longer make those decisions on their own. If there is no power of attorney in place, a spouse or child would be called upon to make those choices. This might not be what the person wants. It’s important for a parent to know that they can make this decision now rather than leave it in the hands of someone they might not trust. More than one person can hold this power, but sometimes it’s easier if there’s just one person making decisions. It depends on the dynamic of your family and the wishes of your parent or parents.
A living will is a specific document that states a person’s wishes about end of life care. It basically says whether they want to be kept alive on life support or not. There are some nuances, but that’s the general idea. Having one of these in place allows you to say exactly what you want and can help a loved one who would otherwise have to make a tough decision without knowing your wishes. You also can state such wishes in a power of attorney for health care.
A medical release of information is another helpful document. This allows a child to work with a parent’s doctors about their care. Adding your name to a parent’s bank account as co-signor might also make things easier. Not everyone is comfortable giving up all this control while they are still living. It’s a lot of power to give to someone who isn’t completely trusted. None of these should be taken lightly.
An elder law attorney can help with any of these documents and ask the tough questions if you aren’t comfortable having the conversation with your parents. They can also recommend estate-planning documents, such as a will and trust.
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