When Roles Reverse and Your Parents Need Your Help
John D. Laughton, A Professional Law Corporation,
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
Thanks to advances in medicine and science, as well as an overall better quality of life, Americans at the beginning of the 21st century have an average life expectancy of almost double what they had at the beginning of the previous century. Despite this, the natural aging process has not changed significantly during the last 100 years. We are simply better able to prolong the inevitable. As a result, it often comes as somewhat of a shock when we realize our parents are getting old – and that they won’t live forever after all. Even more difficult to accept is that the parent who once took care of you now needs your help.
As time marches on, it might become harder and harder for your parents to keep up. It may happen slowly, or in the blink of an eye, but eventually you will see signs that your parents’ physical and mental health is deteriorating. Like any caring child, you may try to pitch in and help for a while. Eventually, the time may come when your parents require more assistance than you can provide. At that point it is time to consider options such as in-home care or a long-term care facility. Making the decision to take the next step is never easy. The decision will be much easier to make and implement, however, if your parents have planned ahead for that possibility. The key, therefore, is to have a comprehensive estate plan in place that addresses issues specific to their post-retirement years.
You might be asking what you can do now. Encourage your parents to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney in their area. A well-thought-out estate plan can anticipate the issues that go along with the certainty of aging and the possibility of incapacity, by incorporating tools and strategies such as:
- Revocable Living Trust – allows a parent to act as trustee while appointing you as the successor trustee. Should incapacity strike at any time, the successor trustee (perhaps you) will take over as trustee of the trust, thereby gaining control over all trust assets without the need to petition a court.
- Advanced Directives – although these vary somewhat from state to state, most states offer an Advanced Directive that allows an individual to make end-of-life decisions in advance. Advanced Directives also allow for the appointment of an “Agent” (you) who will make health care decisions for the “Principal” (your parent) should the “Principal” be unable to make such decisions at some point in the future.
- “HIPAA” Authorization Form – a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) form allows your parent to grant you (and/or others) access to their protected healthcare information. This could be a critical need should you find yourself in a position where you need to make financial or health care decisions for a parent in the future.
- Medi-Cal Planning – this component of a properly drafted estate plan anticipates the future need for the creator of the plan to qualify for Medi-Cal in order to cover the high cost of long-term care. Medi-Cal planning protects estate assets while ensuring eligibility for much-needed benefits when the time comes.
Knowing you have a plan in place will provide both you and your parents with invaluable peace of mind, particularly if you decide a nursing home is the best option. Having a plan in place that addresses the legal and financial aspects of transitioning to another level of care, allows you and your parents to concentrate on selecting the right facility if necessary. Choosing a long-term care facility is a highly personal decision; however, you may wish to take into account some common factors such as the facility’s ratings, the ratio of staff to residents, and geographic proximity to family members. To assist you in your decision-making process, the Medicare website offers a “Nursing Home Compare” tool that allows you to compare nursing homes using all three of these factors.
Take the time now to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney so you and your parents will be prepared, whatever the future holds.