Ask an Elder Law Attorney – What can I do if my elderly parent is losing the ability to make decisions and manage his or her affairs?
By Joellen Meckley, Esq.
Here are three things you should keep in mind:
- The best time to plan is now. Oftentimes, mental decline in old age does not happen suddenly, it happens gradually. The signs can begin to show in subtle ways, such a noticing your mother isn’t paying her bills or has bounced a check or noticing that your father’s personal hygiene has begun to decline. Don’t ignore those signs, because the best time to plan is when your parent is still relatively healthy and competent. Planning can always be done, but the longer you wait, options become more limited.
- These conversations are often difficult. Older adults are no different from the rest of us – some are more resistant to change than others and it can be difficult to raise this subject. If you as a child are worried that your relationship with your parent may be damaged by raising these issues, a subtle approach may work best. Consider relating what a friend is going through with her own elderly parents and use that as a spring board to raise the issue of how you’re worried about what to do if it ever happens to them. Many elderly parents don’t want their children to feel burdened and will be more motivated to address certain issues if they see the potential negative impact their problems could have on their adult child. If there are siblings involved, try to reach a consensus beforehand. A united front can be more effective.
- A range of options are available based on existing mental capacity. Depending on how receptive the parent is, the first step is generally to meet with an elder law attorney who can lay out the options. Hopefully the parent still has some capacity in decision-making and can dictate what he or she wants. They can then be walked through the process of appointing financial and health care powers of attorney, which saves the process of going through court to have a legal guardian appointed. An elder law attorney also can lay out common techniques that can be employed or pitfalls to be avoided when managing the affairs of an aging parent, as well as putting you in contact with a wide range of support resources in the community who are available to help in such a situation such as geriatric care managers, home health agencies, and daily money managers.
Throughout the process, don’t forget that remaining as independent and autonomous as possible may be critical to your elderly parent’s long term well-being and happiness. Obviously, safety and independence must be balanced and decline often continues. However, taking the time to recognize their dignity and promoting independence whenever possible can go a long way in sustaining their quality of life into the future.