Everyone Needs to Sign a Power of Attorney, But Especially Seniors

Everyone Needs to Sign a Power of Attorney, But Especially Seniors

Senior couple reads over paperwork at dining table

Estate planning often gets confused with end-of-life planning, but the two are not the same. Your estate plan does not just protect your assets after you die—it also plays an essential role in securing your health and finances while you are alive. A power of attorney is just as important as any other document in a robust estate plan, and while everyone over the age of 18 should really sign one, they are especially important for seniors.

Understanding Power of Attorney

Power of attorney comes in two forms: medical and financial. The former protects your health, the latter your finances. Here’s what you need to know:

Medical Power of Attorney

When you execute your medical power of attorney—sometimes referred to as an advance healthcare directive—you designate a trusted loved one to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. If, say, you are injured in a car accident and cannot speak for yourself, your medical power of attorney can step in and communicate your wishes. Their decision-making is constrained by instructions previously provided by you—for example, whether you do or do not want to be placed on a ventilator or feeding tube, etc.—which provides peace of mind, and reduces the potential for family conflict.

Durable Power of Attorney

Your financial power of attorney likewise allows you to designate a trusted loved one or advisor to act on your behalf should you suffer incapacitation. Here, however, the powers granted concern your legal and financial affairs. You can customize the authority you give your designated loved one, though it’s common to include access to your financial accounts for bill-pay purposes, the ability to manage property, file taxes, and apply for public benefits.

Why Powers of Attorney Are Especially Important for Seniors

Every adult needs to speak to an estate planning or elder law attorney to draft power of attorney documents, because nobody is immune to life’s unpredictability. A first-year college student is as apt to careen off the road as an aging grandparent, and both need to have their health and finances covered should this happen. Powers of attorney are especially important for seniors, however, as cognitive decline means increasing challenges related to decision-making.

If you’re an aging adult worried about dementia, it’s crucial that you sign power of attorney documents now. Doing so frees you to enjoy your golden years with the security of knowing you will be cared for, and your loved ones won’t end up fighting over how best to attend to your well-being. Furthermore, drafting power of attorney documents while you are of sound physical and mental health can prevent your loved ones from the exhausting and expensive court process of filing for guardianship and/or conservatorship later.

Take Our Healthcare Quiz to Discover the Real Importance of Powers of Attorney

People are often surprised to discover how different their and their children’s ideas are regarding medical care. It’s easy to assume that everyone is on the same page, but our Healthcare Quiz demonstrates that this is rarely the case.

Print out two copies of the quiz here, give one to your kids, keep one for yourself, answer the 12 questions separately, and compare results. Don’t be surprised by discrepancies, but do take this as reason to establish your powers of attorney now!

Reach out to the experienced elder law attorneys at Miller Estate and Elder Law by calling (256) 251-2137 or using the contact form below.

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5 Signs Your Parents May Soon Need More Healthcare Support

5 Signs Your Parents May Soon Need More Healthcare Support

woman and man with grey hair smile and look at each other doing yoga

The holidays are a time for warm family gatherings and togetherness, but if your parents are beginning to age, it can also be a chance to check up on how they are faring. Being tuned in to the health of your aging loved ones is important. Taking note of any early warning signs that they may need additional healthcare support is crucial to getting them the care they need, when they need it.

Below is a list of some of the most common signs that your aging loved ones may soon need more care:

  1. Difficulty with Standing or Mobility. As people age, their balance and strength diminish. If you notice a parent leaning over or looking wobbly, they may need additional help. In addition, if your loved one is leaving the house less often, they may have mobility issues that need to be addressed.
  2. Confusion or Forgetfulness. Did your mom forget what she was saying mid-sentence? Did your dad continually repeat himself? Forgetfulness or confusion can be a sign of cognitive decline and may indicate that your parent needs more healthcare support.
  3. Decline in Personal Hygiene or Housekeeping. If you notice that a parent’s grooming has begun to suffer, it’s possible that they may need additional help with daily tasks, such as brushing their teeth or bathing. If you visit their home and notice more clutter than usual, this may also be a sign that they can no longer take care of themselves sufficiently.
  4. Difficulty Keeping Appointments or Paying Bills. Missing appointments or leaving bills unpaid is a key sign that your parent may be experiencing cognitive decline. Look around for unopened mail and listen to any phone calls that your parents receive from bill collectors attempting to collect payment, or healthcare providers attempting to reschedule missed appointments.
  5. Loss of Interest in Favorite Activities. If your parent is no longer enjoying the activities or interests that used to get them excited, it can be a significant indicator that something has changed. Whether due to mobility issues or cognitive changes, isolation is a major sign that your parent(s) need more healthcare support.

Caring for an aging parent is difficult at best, and heart wrenching at worst. If you notice any of the above warning signs, don’t ignore them. Even if you still sense that your aging loved one will be able to maintain their independence for a few more years, now is the time to make sure you get the appropriate legal documents in place to ensure your ability to care for them when the time comes. It’s also a good time to start planning for the cost of long-term care—remember, Medicaid has a 5-year lookback period, so preparing to qualify for this program should start as early as possible!

At Miller Estate & Elder Law we have many years of experience helping people with all aspects of caring for their loved ones. We’ve developed a helpful guide, Caring for Aging Parents, which includes important information about preparing for and providing the care your aging loved ones may soon need. Complete the brief form below to gain access to this free resource.

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Providing Care After an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: Caring for Aging Parents

Providing Care After an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: Caring for Aging Parents

When a parent or another loved one receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the news lands like a devastating blow. Knowing that you will soon watch someone you love lose their memory and struggle with daily tasks is emotionally wrenching. In addition, your loved one will eventually need intensive dementia care, which can put heavy strains on a family—both psychologically and financially.

Although it’s unlikely that you will be able to provide all the care necessary for a parent diagnosed with dementia, many children do take on a large share of the burden of looking after their parents. For most people, caring for aging parents or loved ones who have received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is a whole new experience, and one that is very overwhelming. Knowing a few basics about dementia care can help ease the burden.

Everyday Care for Those Diagnosed with Dementia

Because people with Alzheimer’s will start to experience changes in memory and their ability to think clearly, they will need help performing many everyday tasks. The inability to perform what used to be simple tasks can prove quite frustrating, and understandably so. Here are some ways you can help support a loved one who is struggling with dementia:

  • Establish a routine. For people with Alzheimer’s, doing the same thing at the same time every day can help them stay focused on and involved in their own lives. Furthermore, certain tasks need to be performed at a time when the patient is most alert, so it’s important to schedule these at that specific time each day.
  • Help your loved one write down tasks and reminders. Writing down the things they need to do and remember will encourage them to take responsibility for their life, and will also help keep their mind sharp.
  • Allow the person to do as much as possible by themselves. Although Alzheimer’s patients will need more and more help as their disease progresses, it’s important to allow them as much independence and autonomy as possible.
  • Provide choices. Providing the person with simple choices, like the choice between two shirts to wear, can help them feel empowered and stay focused.
  • Reduce distractions. Make sure the environment your loved one lives in is free from distractions, particularly during mealtime or conversations. Otherwise, they may get confused.

Safety Considerations for People Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

As well as helping the person with their daily tasks, providing them with a safe environment is an important part of dementia care. Here are a few things you can do to prevent them from getting injured:

  • Lock away potentially dangerous objects, such as cleaners, medicines, matches, or knives.
  • Remove anything that the person could trip over, such as extensions cords or small rugs. Also, install handrails or grab bars to help the person maintain their balance.
  • Keep the thermostat on a lower setting so that the person won’t accidentally burn themselves.
  • Insert safety plugs into unused electrical outlets.

Legal Concerns

In addition to providing care for a loved one diagnosed with dementia, there are also important legal considerations that come with looking after their affairs. At the first word of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you should contact an elder law attorney to ensure the proper legal documents are in place so you can focus on providing care, and not a lengthy and costly legal process. Drafting documents while your loved one is still coherent is essential, though there are limited options for those whose loved ones have already lost significant cognitive function.

At Miller Estate and Elder Law, we have many years of experience helping people whose loved ones have received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Use the brief form below to download a copy of our free guide: Caring for Aging Parents or call (256) 251-2137 to speak with a member of our legal team today!

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What to Look for During Holiday Visits to Aging Parents

What to Look for During Holiday Visits to Aging Parents

The holidays are often called the most wonderful time of the year, especially for aging parents. For many families who live far apart, they are also a time when adult children and grandchildren travel to visit aging parents. Even if you are in regular contact by phone and email, it can be tough to recognize signs of aging that require further attention until you are with your loved ones in person. Do you know what to look for during holiday visits to aging parents?

Let us talk about some of the signs that it may be time to look into getting your aging parent some day to day assistance, or to begin exploring options for long-term care.

The first thing to look for in your aging parents is forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is often one of the first signs to watch for. It is normal for memory to change over time. If your parents, however, are forgetting routine and long-term information, such as their street address or how to get to the grocery store, this could be a sign of the onset of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Decrease in socialization can also be a red flag in aging parents. If your normally active, social parent is spending a lot less time out of the house, this may be cause for concern, especially if he or she is now living alone after being widowed and is not getting social interaction without a spouse in the house. You can help by looking into local activities at a senior center, house of worship, or the library.

Driving issues are also things to watch for. Unfortunately, your parents probably taught you to drive, and you may be the person who has to take away their keys. If vision and spatial issues become too much and impair their ability to drive safely, it is probably time to sit down and talk to your parents about alternatives.

Additionally, be mindful of cleanliness. If your parents’ home has unexpected piles of junk mail and newspapers suddenly stacking up in the corners, it may be time to talk about getting them some help to organize and discard.  If there is a true cleanliness issue, however, with food not being disposed of properly or mold accumulation, it can also be a sign of dementia.

Our office remains committed to serving the elderly and their loved ones. For legal help and support concerning elder law issues, please reach out to us to schedule an appointment.

Can Filial Responsibility Laws Leave You On The Hook For Your Parents Nursing Home Bill?

Can Filial Responsibility Laws Leave You On The Hook For Your Parents Nursing Home Bill?

While parents today may be generally informed that they could be liable for the debts of their children, they rarely consider whether they may actually find themselves on the hook for the debts of their parents. Did you know that over half of the United States have filial responsibility statutes on the books? This may come as a surprise to many people.

A filial responsibility law provides that an adult child has the responsibility to support his or her adult parent. The statutes vary between states. Arkansas requires only payment for mental health services and Connecticut only applies if the parent is under sixty-five. Meanwhile, a court in Pennsylvania entered a judgment of $93,000.00 against an adult son for his mother’s nursing home bill.  

The positive news may be that, in most instances, these statutes are old laws that have not been repealed and are rarely enforced. Until they are removed from the books, however, the risk may be out there that these laws may be used as a collection tactic, as the gentleman in Pennsylvania discovered, much to his chagrin. Once one long-term care facility successfully utilizes the filial responsibility laws to collect from an adult child, it may only be a matter of time, until others follow suit.

The key takeaway here is to take a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to filial responsibility laws. Having conversations with your parents regarding their finances, as well as, plans to cover the cost of a nursing home before the need arises, can be very important. If they have a long-term care policy, get a copy. It may also be prudent to be designated as their durable power of attorney to manage their finances should they become unexpectedly incapacitated. 

An estate planning attorney can explain the filial responsibility laws in your state to you and your parents.  In addition, the attorney can discuss options to safeguard against liability under these laws, such as Medicaid eligibility, long-term care insurance, life-insurance policies with long-term-care benefits or even the possibility of a reverse mortgage on your parent’s home. For more questions on this topic and related matters, please reach out to our office to schedule an appointment. 

Six Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents

Six Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents

When we were younger, our parents took care of us and helped us plan for the future. At some point, most of us may have to do the same for our parents and help them plan for the future. Do you know if your parents have an estate plan? It is not only important to know the answer to this question, but to understand the details associated with the answer. Estate planning plays a crucial role in planning for the future.

Today, let us take a moment to discuss six questions to ask your aging parents to help them plan for the future.

 1. Do they have a health care surrogate in place?  This is one of the most important questions to ask as you want to ensure that they may be taken care of should they become seriously ill and/or incapacitated. 

 2. Have your parents chosen a trusted individual to take on the health care surrogate role? Selecting a health care surrogate is a decision that should not be taken lightly because this person will be making the decisions on behalf of your parent should he or she become critically ill. Try to ensure the person that they have chosen is responsible and, of course, of sound mind.

3. Where are the original estate planning documents kept? If the time arrives when your parent dies or becomes incapacitated, do you know where the original estate planning documents are kept? The original will is necessary to commence probate. In fact, if you do not have the original it may be very difficult to probate the estate according to the terms of the missing will. 

 4. Are your parents’ estate planning documents up-to-date? An estate plan is one of the ways that people ensure their legacy will go on and that the assets that they have chosen for their family can be accessed upon their death. Estate plans should be up to date to reflect current living circumstances and major life events. You can talk to your parents about how they can update their estate plan. An estate plan is a great way to help your parents think ahead, but to be most effective it should be up to date.

5. If your parents have a trust, is it properly funded? If not, it could mean a long and expensive probate before you can have access to their assets. To understand it a little better remember, funding a trust means taking assets that are titled in the individual trust settlor’s name and retitling them into the name of the trust.

 6. Is your parent working with an attorney they trust? Having a comprehensive and properly drafted estate plan in place can be crucial to securing the future you want for yourself and your loved ones. Having the right estate planning attorney on your side, who understands your unique situation and can advise you appropriately, can be absolutely critical to proper estate planning.

Our firm is committed to representing your best interests and that of your family. We do this by drafting estate plans that have been crafted to meet your unique needs. For help creating your estate plan or answering any related questions, we are here for you. Contact our office today to schedule a meeting.