Legal Issues and Aging

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Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of having a will.  A will is a legal document, a tool for insuring that personal business affairs and bequests are in order after one’s death.  Most people recognize the clear-cut benefits of having one and updating it from time to time.

There are actually other important legal documents that families should consider implementing to address the transitions that may occur during the aging process—chronic illness, infirmity, the unexpected costs of in-home services or long-term care.  Your Eldercare Consultants recommend that families plan ahead and have these documents prepared, often with the help of a specialist, to address some very common situations. 

Advance Directives: Four Documents You Need to Have

Advance Directives is a general term describing an assortment of written instructions about who will represent a person who becomes unable to speak for himself or manage his financial affairs.  For older people who are concerned about end-of-life issues, advance directives offer some assurance that their personal beliefs and wishes will be honored when they cannot personally be in charge.

There are four documents that express advance directives:  a living will, a medical power of attorney, a power of attorney for property (and finances) and a DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) order.

  • A Living Will—Guides family, friends and physicians about how an individual would want to be treated if seriously ill and unable to express their own wishes.
  • Power of Attorney for Health Care forms—Designate a spokesperson for medical treatments in case of incapacitating illness or injury.  This person may also be known as the “health care proxy,” surrogate or agent.
  • Power of Attorney for Property forms— Designate a representative to handle and execute specific tasks related to finances when necessary.  Tasks might include signing checks, paying bills, spending funds, selling property.
  • A DNR order—Governs efforts to revive gravely ill individuals who are approaching—or in—cardiopulmonary arrest.  It must be signed by a physician.

Although Advance Directives are often prepared by attorneys, they can actually be completed by individuals.   Documents require a signature, a witness, and a notary stamp to be considered legal. 

Trusts and Estate Planning

Families should anticipate that the costs of late life care can often be quite expensive. It is important to develop a financial plan early in order to reserve assets for that period of life. To develop a plan, Your Eldercare Consultants recommend that families work with specially trained or credentialed attorneys and financial professionals experienced in estate planning and elder law.  

Medicaid, Spousal Impoverishment and “Spend Down” Planning

Many families find that they have exhausted most of their assets over time and can no longer afford to pay for a loved one’s skilled or long-term care. Eldercare attorneys are equipped to assist by completing documents that protect some assets for the benefit of a spouse who will continue to live in the community and with pre-planning for Medicaid applications. Consumer Assistance programs can also provide education and general guidance to help families proceed on their own.

Guardianship

Sometimes, in cases when an older individual’s judgment and ability to think clearly have declined, a need for guardianship emerges.  Guardianship is a complicated legal proceeding meant to protect the rights and welfare of individuals who cannot make reasoned healthcare and financial decisions. Consult with one of our Geriatric Care Managers or an attorney to learn more about this process.

How Can Families Help? Trust Your Eldercare Consultants to Find Solutions

It is realistic to anticipate that older loved ones may need help from their adult children or extended family in matters related to healthcare, finances, insurance and more.  The advantage goes to forward-thinking families who have planned in advance and initiated conversations about these sensitive issues. 

A professional geriatric care manager, such as Your Eldercare Consultants can help set an agenda for comprehensive eldercare planning and serve as a solutions specialist, particularly when family members disagree or have difficulty collaborating.