Editor’s note: This is the sixth in the Next Avenue “When Should You…” series on aging milestones for parents or loved ones. With our partners at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, we will address common caregiving concerns.
Caregiving isn’t just about taking care of your loved one’s physical health. The deeper you get into the caregiving role, the more that realization hits you.
If your parent suffers from dementia or another degenerative condition, you might be preparing yourself to cope with the effects on both body and mind.
In the event your parent becomes incapacitated, are you prepared to step into a decision-making role? Do you know where essential documents are? Do you know what his or her care preferences are? What are your parent’s thoughts on end-of-life care or life support?
(MORE: 6 Ways Sibs Can Pull Together for Mom and Dad)
These are key topics to discuss with your parents while they'e able to participate in the discussion and make their preferences known.
Probably the most important subject is designating a power of attorney before your parents become incompetent.
How To Make A POA Agreement
Power of attorney (POA) is a formal agreement between the person who needs the agreement ("grantor") and the person ("agent") designated to act on the grantor’s behalf and in his or her best interests.
(MORE: How to Prepare to Become Your Parents’ Caregiver)
If there are complicated financial holdings, encourage your parents to meet with their attorney. However, you don’t need a lawyer to create the agreement, especially when there’s not a lot of money or property involved, explains senior care expert Bert Rahl, director of mental health services at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.
And while POA forms can be downloaded from the Internet, a handwritten list of the agent’s responsibilities signed by the grantor is sufficient. However, to turn the agreement into a legal document, some states require that the form be signed by witnesses and notarized.
The best place for that, says Rahl, is “where the grantor banks, because most banks have notaries.”
Cover All Bases
Rahl stresses that the POA must be created when the grantor is totally competent because “if or when competency comes into question there’s the possibility that the legality of the POA comes into question, too.”
(MORE: Why Caregivers Need to Plan for the Worst)
Your loved one may (and probably will) need to create more than one power of attorney, including:
1. Power of Attorney for Health Care, which grants you (as the designated agent) the right to make all health care decisions for your parent when he or she is unable to do so. This document should be shared with your parent’s primary care physician and, if he or she is admitted to a hospital, included in his or her hospital records.
2. Limited Power of Attorney, which grants you limited powers and/or time to act in a specific situation. For example, a Limited POA might enable you to sell your father’s lifelong collection of baseball cards or manage your mother’s move from her current home to an assisted living community. The Limited POA expires when the task is completed or the timeframe ends, whichever comes first.
3. Financial Power of Attorney, which grants you access to and management of financial accounts and resources specifically listed in the POA. Some Financial POAs divvy up responsibilities, giving one individual access to accounts used for bill paying and another person management of stock and investment accounts.
4. Durable Power of Attorney, which grants you the right to manage all aspects of your parent’s life and finances, and health care, where specified. It goes into effect when signed and stays in effect until your parent cancels it or dies.
5. Springing Power of Attorney, which “springs” into action in case of an emergency in which your parent becomes incapacitated and unable to speak for himself or herself. When (or if) the crisis is over and he or she is able to speak for himself or herself, the POA ceases to be in effect.
Stay On Top Of The Documents
If you go the POA route, Rahl suggests making copies of all the documents involved and storing them in a safe, easily accessible place. These documents might include:
1. Title/ownership documents (deeds, stock certificates, loan papers, car title, etc.)
2. Contracts and other legally binding agreements
3. Legal documents (birth/adoption certificates, marriage certificates, wills, other/situational powers of attorney)
4. Bank records that show ownership and how accounts are held (statements, passbooks, CDs, safety deposit box information, etc.)
5. List of major assets (real estate, financial accounts, stocks, cash, jewelry, insurance, pre-paid funeral arrangements, etc.)
6. List of outstanding debts (with supporting materials if available)
7. Living will/advanced directives
8. Names and numbers of doctors, attorneys, accountants, etc.
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This article is reprinted with permission. © 2014 Benjamin Rose Institute in Aging. All Rights Reserved.