7 Things You Can Do to Protect Your Aging Parents
If your parents are still healthy and active, be grateful and enjoy their company. Then take a little bit of time to plan for future. The time you spend now will save you and them countless headaches in the future. Here are seven things you can do to help them through their golden years.
Prepare a Will or Trust
When you are healthy and happy, preparing a will or trust agreement is no big deal. It is not terribly expensive and allows your parents to decide how they want their assets distributed. Choosing the right estate planning tool, however, can save thousands of dollars in probate costs for their heirs. It is particularly important in small to moderate sized estates. $20,000 in probate expenses is not the end of the world if you are leaving a million dollar estate, but if it is $100,000 it is.
Prepare a Durable Power of Attorney
Powers of attorney for health care allow a trusted person of your choice to make health care decisions if you cannot make them yourself. They are similar to a living will, but more flexible. A Power of Attorney for finances allows someone else to make financial decisions for you. The trick is that a power of attorney must be prepared while a person is competent to make their own decisions. Many families seek out a power of attorney only after their parent has Alzheimers or severe dementia. At that point it is often too late. A much more expensive guardianship procedure is necessary instead. A few hundred dollars and an hour of time is all it takes to avoid this problem if you do it when they are healthy.
Make Sure that their Finances are Well Managed and Protected
Financial abuse is surprisingly common among the elderly. Sadly, the abuse is frequently at the hands of friends and relatives. The best way to protect your parents is to encourage them to discuss things with you. We tell our elderly clients to call a couple of people before signing anything or transferring any property or money. Regularly reviewing account statements can also help to spot fraudulent or abusive transfers.
Plan far in Advance for Nursing Home Care
Most people do eventually wind up in a nursing home. Yet, it is surprisingly common for the family to decide on nursing home care, pick the nursing home and discuss payment, only after the situation has become critical. Financially, it is possible to do many things to plan for this if you start early. Options range from good Medicaid planning (3-5 years in advance), long term care insurance (5+ years in advance) to investing for the cost (5+ years in advance). Likewise, you should allow plenty of time to pick the right nursing home. There are many good resources for choosing a good nursing home. If you don’t rush the process you’ll make a better choice.
Find them a Good Geriatrician
When it comes to the elderly, not all doctors are created equal. A doctor specializing in geriatrics is much more likely to focus on the things that matter. They are also likely to avoid tests and procedures that may be more harmful than beneficial. Good medical care will help your parents to live independently for the longest possible time.
Plan for Emergencies
As we age there is an increased chance of a life threatening incident. Such incidents include stroke, heart attack or even a simple fall. There are things you can do to plan for these eventualities. Set up an alarm or signaling system that allows them to easily call 911 for help. Prepare a list of their medications, medical conditions and emergency contacts that is located in an easily accessible location. Some communities provide a “File of Life” kept in a magnetic sleeve on the refrigerator. Paramedics in those communities know to look for these sleeves and bring them along to the hospital.
Insist on Good Care
At some point you may recognize that you need help caring for your parents. It is good for you to recognize your limitations and get that help. It may include at-home care, assisted living or nursing home care. Even good facilities, however, sometimes neglect patients or make mistakes. Do not hesitate to ask questions, report problems or insist upon better care. Be polite but persistent. Take the time to praise people who go the extra mile to care for your parents.
Considering these options may seem a little depressing. Nobody wants to contemplate their own death, or the death of a loved one. Ignoring the situation, however, will not improve things. Good planning, on the other hand, can allow your parents to live long, healthy independent lives.
Article by Eric Parker, attorney and partner at Stotis & Baird Chartered. Eric practices in Chicago, Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette, Glenview and the rest of the Chicagoland area in the areas of estate planning, elder law and litigation. You can find more articles on elder law topics on the resources page of our website.