In my practice over the years, I have learned what to watch for to protect aging relatives.
Here are 7 pointers and things to consider as you care for an older relative.
1. Get estate planning documents in place before it is too late
If you do not do this in time, your relative may reach a state where they lack capacity to sign the documents. Or someone may swoop in and pull that person into their sway, tricking them into signing things over. An aging person should not put this off because that injury or decline could happen very fast. Your parents and aging relatives (and you!) need to have a will, living will, powers of attorney and maybe even a trust. This is the dignified way to protect the wealth they worked to build and to respect their wishes when it comes to health care, their home and where they will be living out their last days.
2. Check in regularly regarding finances
It is so common to find out an aging relative has wasted away cash on things like Home Shopping Network, scams and shady investments, gifts to casual acquaintances and so-called friends with sob stories. I often see this waste amounting to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Try to get involved in reviewing finances early on and in a friendly way so you can stop this before it happens. A power of attorney and access to accounts is a great way to start and can be part of their estate plan. Helping with respect early on more easily segueways into intervening with effect later on.
3. Help them plan for long-term care
Many of the long-term care insurance products formerly available are no longer, have been scaled back, become highly expensive or both. Everyone needs a long-term care plan and it should not be hopping into a Medicaid facility at a first resort. Visit some facilities early on. You will learn that many facilities expect up to two years payment BEFORE opening up a Medicaid bed to that person. Please get this figured out before it is too late. Even with the increasing home care options, expense is an issue. Have a plan.
4. Watch out for what I call “swoopers”
These are the prodigal relatives who swoop in like vultures once they realize an inheritance may be on the horizon. That vulnerable person almost always welcomes them with open arms, much to the dismay of the more sincere relatives and caretakers who have been there all along. Why? It is the classic story of the prodigal son returns. The elder relative has wanted to restore that relationship for years and now their dreams have come true. Sure it is fake — witness the empty pick-up truck the swooper brings to cart things away and the shady power of attorney they manage to have signed on arrival. But I have learned people easily believe what they want to believe, accepting the fake love of the black sheep when they probably should know better. It takes a delicate touch to handle this issue. Again, legal documents can help protect that relative BEFORE this happens.
5. Pay attention to their driving
This is such a sad issue as mobility is lost — the last vestige of the American dream of hitting the highway or simply going to store for milk. On the other hand, you do not want to see a dangerous traffic accident and even innocent third parties hurt because you were afraid to take away the keys. Luckily, an occupational therapist, doctor or even an attorney can explain the legal and medical reasons this is non-negotiable, taking the pressure off you in having this conversation. Now I have seen 90-year-olds and even a 100-year-old who can drive safely, so I am not saying your relative cannot. But if you are concerned, there is probably a good reason. Take action before tragedy hits.
6. Consider untreated medical conditions
Aging can make a person less aware of medical decline and unresolved issues. At the same time, they are concerned of losing autonomy, which gives incentive to hide problems. Many people do not want to give up their homes and cars and freedom. They fear admitting illness or frailty because they think this will hurry their loss of autonomy. Denial also comes into play. Driving your relative to regular doctor appointments can become a friendly tradition early on and, with the help of a release and power of attorney, increase into helpful monitoring over time. Offer to take notes during appointments. This may open the door to forming relationships with health care providers and bring some objectivity into the conversation.
7. Acknowledge their wisdom
Our older relatives ARE wiser than us — it’s that simple. We do not know what they are going through and, hey, may not even reach their age ourselves. Listen without judgment and validate their feelings. Offer simple suggestions and then let them think it over. If you are a safe space to share, they may open up making this process easier for all concerned and making you a trusted resource and companion. I am happy to offer you some tips on this as I need to do this with my own clients several hours every day.
These are just a few of the key issues that you should look for with love and concern. For the legal issues, I am happy to give you a free consult. Just give me a call at 720-922-3880 or on my cell at 303-808-4794.