3 must-haves for your aging parents

Do you have a plan for your parents’ long-term care? Three legal documents are a must. And now’s the time to get them.

No one likes to think about being in a nursing home, but the fact is more than half of us will be in one when we get older. How prepared are you to care for your parents if they’re not physically or mentally able to care for themselves? Could you help your parents manage their long-term health needs? Do you know your parents’ desires for their long-term care?

These are big questions that require serious conversations. Now’s the time to work on a plan — when your parents, and you, are healthy and able to make good decisions.

Misty Clark Vantrease, a local expert in legal affairs for the elderly, says it’s never too soon to develop a plan for your parents’ (or your own) long-term health care.

Vantrease, who recently spoke at an event sponsored by Norton Healthcare Foundation and Premier Caregiver Services, asked questions that made me (and everybody else in the room) realize there’s a lot to think about:

  • Have you chosen a power of attorney for your parents? And is that document up-to-date? 
  • Do mom and dad have a living will? 
  • Who is your parents’ “health care surrogate”? And should there be a back-up person? 
  • What’s the plan if either or both parents should need long-term care? 
  • How do they/you pay for long-term care?

Vantrease recommends getting legal documents in order sooner rather than later. She says there are three documents everyone should have drawn up. If your parents already have these and they are dated earlier than 2010, they probably need a second look. The documents are:

  1. A power of attorney, which is written authorization for a designated person to represent or act on another’s behalf in private, business or other legal affairs. A well-drafted document can remove any fear that older adults may have about their desires being overrun. 
  2. A medical power of attorney, also called a health care surrogate, which authorizes a designated person to make health-related decisions that may not be covered in a person’s living will. This may or may not be the same person who has the general power of attorney. 
  3. An up-to-date living will recognized in the state where your parent resides. This is a legal document in which the person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity.

Vantrease recommends working with your parents to make those long-term decisions when they’re still mentally able to make their wishes known. If these decisions are difficult, she suggests bringing in a medical provider, such as a family doctor or geriatric care manager, to focus the conversation to what’s most suitable for all involved.

If you wonder whether it is unsafe for your parent to live at home alone or to continue to drive a vehicle, Vantrease says some health care companies can come to your parents’ home and assess their ability to live unassisted. Likewise, there are ways to review their ability to drive safely. This can be especially helpful in situations where a parent is reluctant to give up some of this independence. Sometimes hearing it from an outside “expert” is more convincing than hearing it from you.

Planning for long-term care is a long-term process. Start now before one event puts the family in crisis mode.

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