Legal Planning Tips for Assisting Aging Relatives

Posted by J. Richardson on September 27, 2018
The older population is projected to almost double between 2012 and 2050, from 43.1 million to 83.7 million. As our nation prepares for this massive demographic shift, families across the country are also working to develop plans to care for their aging mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, etc. 

This process can be very overwhelming for many reasons, but there are a few things that you can do to remove some of the uncertainty heading into your loved one’s golden years.  

Talk About “It”
The traditional familial roles in which children become caregivers for their parents and older relatives as they age can be extremely difficult and emotional. This is also complicated by the fact that caring for aging relatives can be overwhelming when the primary caregiver has other familial and work responsibilities. 

It is very important that all individuals who might be responsible for providing care and support to the aging relative sit down to discuss their wants and needs. Topics for consideration include:
  • Whether your relative will continue to live independently, and if so, for how long?
  • What type of support does your relative need to live independently and who can/will provide this support?
  • Under what circumstances does your relative want to leave their home, and if so, where do they want to live?
These are just a few topics to cover, but having frank, big picture discussions with your loved ones before decisions have to be made can make this transition less difficult.  

Educate and Empower 
Once you have an idea of what matters most to you and your loved one, it is time to examine what is medically and financially possible, and to develop a plan to accomplish your goals. It is very important that you discuss medical and health conditions to get a full picture of the potential needs that your loved one may have. 

Equally important is to fully understand your loved one’s financial picture. You should obtain as much knowledge as possible about the income and resources that your relative has and/or is entitled to, and what could be used to provide for their care and support throughout the coming years. Many families fail to obtain this information and resulting health and medical emergencies leave them feeling helpless when the information is needed.

Empower yourself by researching the multitude of options and programs available to elderly individuals and their families and by reaching out to organizations that may be able to provide you with guidance and assistance in navigating the aging process. Many local Senior Centers, Veterans Associations, Community Programs, Professional Bar Associations and even Law Schools have programs that offer assistance, advice, clinical help and legal assistance to elderly individuals and their families and many are also free of charge.  

Do(s) and Don’t(s)

As an Attorney, the most frequent questions that I encounter from my amazing clients, who operate Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing Facilities, involve Advance Directives/Living Wills, Attorneys-in Fact/ the Power of Attorney Process, Guardianships and Conservatorships.   

Below are a few do(s) and don’t(s) that may give you a solid baseline of knowledge for decision-making: 
  • DO make sure that an Attorney-in-Fact via Power of Attorney documents are properly put in place. An Attorney-in-Fact is someone who is given the legal authority to make medical and/or financial decisions for another.   
  • DON’T mislead the Assisted Living and/or Skilled Nursing Facility regarding your status as an Attorney-in-fact or your loved one’s income and resources.
  • DO consider the utility of ensuring that the Power of Attorney document specifies that the Attorney-in-Fact appointment is durable, meaning that it remains valid even if the your loved one loses capacity.
  • DON’T engage in a course of conduct, particularly involving use or misuse of your relative’s income and resources which may subject you to Civil and/or Criminal liability.
  • DO watch for signs that your loved one’s mental and/or physical condition is changing or declining.  
  • DO work with your relative to ensure that they execute Advance Directives and/or a Living Will providing clear direction as to their wishes regarding Medical Treatment should they become unable to communicate.
Navigating the new territory of handling the aging of a loved one may be difficult and daunting, but you are certainly not alone. The good news is that as the aging population grows exponentially, the resources and assistance available to you in navigating this process do as well.  

Jackie Richardson is a Partner with Burgeon Legal Group where she focuses on Healthcare Law. Burgeon Legal Group is a national, boutique law firm focused on optimizing recovery for health care providers through Medicaid, Medicare, private collections, training and education.

This article is intended for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.