Make a list.
Next, you’ll need to know just what funds and other financial resources you have at your disposal. Take inventory of your parents’ assets including their home, retirement account savings, Social Security, and pension benefits. You might want to visit the National Institutes of Health Website, which offers a checklist of items to cover. Also, you and your siblings should also be honest about what you can each provide.
Get an expert pair of eyes.
It is also a good idea to contact a local office of aging, an agency supervised by most counties and states. Set up an appointment to have someone visit elderly parents and assess their needs. Alternatively, many faith-based organizations have family services experts who can visit parents and draw up a list of considerations that will make their lives safe and comfortable.
Additionally, case workers are well versed in government funding sources that are extended to the elderly, whether from volunteer groups or the Department of Veterans Affairs. Finally, case workers can be an invaluable source of leads concerning agencies or firms that employ home care assistants.
Get the documents you’ll need.
No one wants to imagine dire circumstances. Still, planning for the worst is sometimes the best preparation. If you plan to care for elderly parents, you should encourage them to draw up durable powers of attorney, a revocable trust, and a privacy authorization that complies with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. A durable power of attorney designates a trustworthy person of your parents’ choice to manage their affairs according to their wishes. It’s “durable” because the document stays in effect if your parents become ill or incapacitated, unlike a power of attorney, which does not. A durable power of attorney for healthcare allows that person to make healthcare decisions; one can also be set up to handle your parents’ financial affairs. Even if the same person is handling healthcare and finances, separate documents are usually used.
A revocable trust places parents’ property under the supervision of a designated trustee who can make financial decisions under circumstances outlined in the trust. Finally, because of healthcare privacy laws under HIPAA, a care provider should have his or her parents sign a privacy authorization that allows the provider to stay informed about important medical issues. Without it, your parents’ doctors are not in a position to talk to you, even if you have a medical power of attorney.
Hermann Eisele, a St. Louis estate planning attorney with the law firm Weiss & Associates P.C., recommends consulting with a lawyer who specializes in elder care issues. “I’ve seen people fill out downloaded Internet documents or have forms filled out at a service center that just do not have the proper terms and language,” he says. “Cutting corners that way can create problems down the road.” Eisele also says that a good elder care lawyer will help elderly parents screen possible designates for certain very critical abilities.