Four Ways to Help Elderly Family Members Ensure Care

Far too often, elders do not have their affairs in order in time, leaving heirs or caregivers to try to sort out what should happen with accounts, property, or medical decisions. Or elders outlive their heirs or friends and have no one to turn to in a time of need. Here are just a few tips for helping your elderly friends or family members make sure they are taken care of in terms of legal items during their most vulnerable times.

Choose a Medical Agent

Not only should a person's medical wishes be recorded, but a medical or health care agent should also be named. Typically, the agent is identified in a durable power of attorney. The medical agent would be responsible for making decisions on the elderly person's behalf once that person is judged to be incapacitated, whether due to dementia, accident, or illness. This person must be chosen carefully and would ideally be a trusted family member or close friend. The agent may also have to make end-of-life decisions, such as allowing life support or providing "do not resuscitate" instructions based on the elderly person's wishes.

Create a Financial Checklist or Plan

Medical care can become expensive. It's better to sit down and discuss a financial plan sooner rather than later if one has not already been created. Does your elderly family member have enough to ensure their care? If not, what else is needed? If they have created a trust, are there enough funds to fuel the trust? Have they made decisions about divisions of assets or what might be done with bank accounts, retirement benefits, or other financial items? You can help your elderly relative tackle these questions and more by creating a financial checklist or plan of what needs to be addressed, what decisions have been made, and what still needs to be done1. These decisions can then be discussed with a lawyer as needed when creating legal paperwork.

Ensure Paperwork is in Order

Without legal paperwork, agents and caregivers may have to guess about the elderly person's wishes for their care, or use their own best judgment in making decisions based on what they know of the person. Having the paperwork in order is the best way to make sure that a person's health care, financial, and legal wishes are recorded and enforceable. In the situation of ensuring care for an elder, such documents might include powers of attorney, wills, trusts, and/or other medical documents.

Avoid Guardianship

It is much more common for a person to have named an agent to make decisions on their behalf once he or she becomes incapacitated. However, by waiting too long to name agents or get paperwork in order, it could become necessary for the court to step in and appoint a guardian if a person has become incapacitated. The guardian would then be able to make financial and/or health care decisions on that person's behalf. Guardianship tends to occur when the family has a dispute or disagreement over how decisions should be made for the elderly family member.2 This is more likely to be avoided if legal paperwork has already been created, such as establishing a living will, durable power of attorney, or trust document that names agents and records the family member's wishes in regards to their care.

Talk to your elderly family members or friends today and begin the process to ensure their wishes for their care are recorded.

1"Legal Documents." Accessed March 22, 2016. Alzheimer's Association. https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-legal-documents.asp.

2"Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families." Accessed March 22, 2016. AARP. http://assets.aarp.org/www.aarp.org _/articles/foundation/aa66r2_care.pdf.