By Charles Moore
If you’ve ever been a caregiver for an elderly parent, you know how difficult it can be. In addition to providing care for your parents, many administrative tasks must be handled, including banking, taxes, paperwork and Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security. More importantly, do you have the legal authority to make decisions? Did your parents create an estate plan? Where is it? Caretaking is not easy. Here are a few practical tips to help:
BE ORGANIZED: Having all their paperwork and information at your fingertips makes this job much easier. I recommend organizing yourself with all of this documentation using the method that works for you. Binder, notebook, email, smartphone, whatever. It seems obvious, but I often meet with elderly parents and their caretaker children, and documents are missing or not in order.
COMMUNICATION: Speak with your parents and find out who their doctors are, where they bank, which medicines they take (and where they are filled.) Jot down this information and have it organized for easy access. Put important numbers in your phone. Caretaking is repetitious, and if you need a phone number frequently, it makes sense to take the time to set up the number in your contacts. Communicate with family members. See if you can get other family members to commit to helping, even if it’s only on a certain day of the week for a set number of hours. Work with family and friends to develop a routine. Seeing friends and family is a huge part of the quality of life for a person. Make sure your Mom or Dad is surrounded by people they love as frequently and regularly as possible.
BE SELFISH: Caretaking is quite a physical and mental burden, and over time it can harm your health. It can lead to the development of obesity, alcohol abuse and depression, among a host of other physical problems like hypertension, diabetes, heart issues and stress. Don’t neglect your own life and family. You need quality of life as well, and ultimately if you are happier, the person you are providing care for will be happier.
BE REALISTIC: Caretaking can only accomplish so much. As an estate planning and elder law attorney, one particularly bad habit I’ve seen regularly among caretakers is refusing to change course when you can no longer provide enough care to help your parent. If it’s time to go into assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing, then it’s time. You’re not helping your parent by trying to be Superman or Superwoman. It’s only diminishing their health and chances of having a strong quality of life. It’s difficult to make these decisions, but they have to be made. I’ve seen caretakers refuse to dishonor their parent’s wishes to never go into a nursing home. Only to change their mind when it becomes obvious (maybe too late) that it was making their health problems much worse. What your parent would have wanted and what they now need can be two different things.
BE PROACTIVE: The worst caretaker is someone who wants to help but is afraid to make decisions. I’ve had people call me about getting an estate plan for Dad, who needs to “get something done,” and then they never follow up. Then the same person will call two years later, but Dad no longer has the capacity, and it’s too late to do an estate plan. A person can’t create a power of attorney or a will if they’re incompetent. Be informed and execute, whether opening accounts, applying for benefits, changing doctors, hiring a lawyer or financial advisor or dealing with a parent’s tax issue. The biggest thing is not to be afraid. You’re trying to help Mom and Dad and if they want your help, provide it. Be above board and get legal authority through the power of attorney documents if your parents want your help.
Charles J. Moore is an estate planning and elder law attorney and the founder of Legacy Law Center, which has offices in O’Fallon (by appointment) and St. Charles. He can be reached at (636) 887-5297. Visit his website www.legacylawmissouri.com. The information expressed herein should not be construed by the reader to be legal advice, nor relied upon as legal advice, as it is solely for informational purposes.