As our loved ones age, it is not uncommon for their cognitive abilities to decline. Witnessing a family member struggle with everyday tasks can be heart-wrenching, and determining the best course of action may be overwhelming. This article by ALTA Estate, a locally owned and operated estate planning company led by Mark Fishbein, with over 40 years of experience, will help you understand your options and provide valuable resources for support.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney: A Crucial Protective Measure
Establishing a durable financial power of attorney is an effective way to ensure someone you trust can manage your financial and legal affairs when you cannot do so yourself. This legal document can be structured to take effect immediately or only upon your incapacitation.
Typically, you execute powers of attorney alongside other estate planning documents. However, once the individual becomes incapacitated, the designated agent or “attorney-in-fact” assumes the responsibilities outlined in the document, such as managing financial transactions and signing contracts.
To safeguard your family member’s best interests, consider the following steps:
- Determine if your relative has already established a power of attorney. People commonly store this document with their will or trust agreement. Locating the will or trust agreement might lead you to a power of attorney as well.
- If you cannot find a power of attorney, encourage your relative to sign one while they still have the mental capacity.
- In cases where the relative’s mental state has severely deteriorated, or they refuse to sign a power of attorney, you may need to pursue guardianship or conservatorship through the court system.
Understanding Mental Capacity and Powers of Attorney
For a person to be mentally capable of signing a power of attorney, they must comprehend the nature and consequences of the transaction. An estate planner who prepares the document will evaluate the individual’s mental capacity and might testify later about the signing and mental capacity if someone contests the document’s validity.
Exploring Guardianships and Conservatorships
If a power of attorney is unattainable, you may need to seek a court declaration of mental incompetence for your relative. This process involves a professional evaluation and a hearing. Then, depending on your jurisdiction, the court may appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your relative’s affairs.
Unfortunately, such public court proceedings can be costly and emotionally taxing for all involved. Moreover, if the individual did not previously nominate a guardian or conservator, they lose the ability to select who manages their affairs.
Seeking Assistance with Housing and Caregiving
Financial and health care powers of attorney typically cover only specified matters and often exclude decisions like relocating a family member to assisted living or other facilities, which generally necessitate a conservator or guardian.
To prevent a court intervention or a crisis, proactively encourage your elderly relative to explore alternative living arrangements. However, recognize that persuading them might require patience and persistence. For additional support and resources, consult a social worker at the hospital or rehabilitation facility where your loved one receives care. You can also visit eldercare.gov or contact your local social services office to address hygiene and safety concerns and connect with appropriate resources.
While a financial power of attorney is important for managing a relative’s financial and legal matters, it may only address some needs. Therefore, seeking external support is crucial for ensuring the well-being of your aging loved one.
Navigating Medical Decisions and Healthcare Needs
Making informed decisions about your loved one’s healthcare is essential as they age. Establishing a healthcare power of attorney can help protect their best interests, even when they cannot communicate their preferences.
A healthcare power of attorney is a legal document that designates an agent to make medical decisions on behalf of the person in question. This agent receives authority only when individuals cannot make decisions for themselves. This type of document is essential in cases of cognitive decline.
To establish a healthcare power of attorney for your loved one:
- Discuss their medical preferences and values to ensure you understand their wishes.
- Consult an estate planner to draft the document, ensuring it complies with your jurisdiction’s requirements.
- Encourage your relative to sign the legal document while they are still mentally capable.
Planning for Long-term Care Expenses
As your loved one’s needs evolve, their long-term care costs may become a significant concern. Statistics indicate that around 70% of individuals aged 65 and older will require some form of long-term care during their lifetime. Therefore, it is crucial to plan for these expenses early on.
Consider the following options to address long-term care expenses:
- Long-term care insurance: These policies can help cover the costs of various care services, such as in-home care, assisted living, or nursing home care.
- Life insurance with a long-term care rider: Certain life insurance policies provide an extra benefit that can cover long-term care expenses.
- Medicaid planning: For those with limited income and resources, Medicaid may assist with long-term care expenses. Consult an experienced estate planner to understand eligibility requirements and asset protection strategies.
Building a Support System
Caring for an aging relative can be emotionally and physically demanding. Therefore, establishing a support system for yourself and your loved one is crucial. Consider joining caregiver support groups, engaging in self-care activities, and seeking respite care services when needed.
At ALTA Estate, our team of experienced professionals, led by Mark Fishbein, is dedicated to helping you navigate the challenges of aging and ensuring your loved one’s well-being. With over 40 years of experience, we provide comprehensive estate planning services and support to address each client’s unique needs. By understanding the various legal, financial, and healthcare aspects of aging, you can safeguard your loved one’s interests and provide them with the best care.
Feel free to call the ALTA Estate Services, LLC office at (520) 231-2839 to learn more about proper and complete estate planning, including the Emergency Telephone Hotline Program afforded to you and your family members at no charge during times of crisis and the other benefits of estate planning described above. Mark Fishbein, Tucson, AZ.
The text above is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice.