Caretaking for Elderly Parents

If you’ve ever been a caregiver for an elderly parent, you know how difficult it can be. Actually providing care to your Mom or Dad is just part of what you’re doing.  There’s a lot of administrative tasks as well, including banking, paperwork of all kinds, dealing with Medicare / Medicaid and Social Security. Oh, and do you have 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:

  1. BE ORGANIZED: You will need to have a bunch of paperwork and information at your fingertips. I recommend organizing yourself with all of this documentation using the method that works for you. Binder, notebook, email, smart phone, whatever. It seems obvious but too often I meet with elderly parents and their caretaker children and documents are missing or not in order. 
  1. COMMUNICATION: You need to speak with Mom or Dad 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’re gonna need a phone number often, it makes sense to take the time to be able to pull up the number easily. 

Also, 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 amount of hours. Work with family and friends to develop a routine. Seeing friends and family is a huge part of quality of life for a person. Make sure your Mom or Dad is surrounded by people they love as often as possible. 

  1. BE SELFISH: Caretaking is quite a burden physically and mentally and over time it can be harmful to 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 should be happier. 
  1. BE REALISTIC: Caretaking can only accomplish so much. As an estate planning and elder law attorney one particularly bad habit I’ve seen often among caretakers is refusing to change course when you can no longer provide enough caretaking 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. It’s only diminishing their health and chances of having a strong quality of life. It’s not easy to make these decisions but they have to be made. I’ve seen caretakers refuse to dishonor Mom’s wish to never go into a nursing home and then changing their mind when it became obvious (maybe too late) that it was making Mom’s health problems much worse. 
  1. BE PROACTIVE: The worst kind of caretaker is the person who wants to help but is afraid to make decisions. I’ve had people call me about getting an estate plan for Dad who really 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 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 not competent.  Be informed and execute, whether it’s 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 to 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 power of attorney documents if Mom or Dad wants 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 and St. Charles.  He can be reached at (636) 887-5297.

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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