The Legal Document Everyone Needs, But So Few Have:

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By Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, Mediator

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Adult children of aging parents think it won’t happen to their parents.  Aging parents are in denial themselves about getting older. Then, crisis hits.

“Jeanine” called AgingParents.com with this typical question: “My Dad and Mom both have Alzheimer’s.  Dad is acting weird lately.  Mom is not doing well.  My sister and I agree that we need to get Dad to stop dealing with the checkbook.  He forgets and doesn’t pay the bills. We’re having a disagreement with our brother about what to do.  He thinks they’ll be all right and we should honor their independence.  What can we do?”

One of the first questions I ask  as an elder law attorney when this kind of thing comes up is whether anyone has a durable power of attorney.  In Jeanine’s case the parents had made each other the power of attorney for themselves.  Not smart.  Now both are incapacitated mentally and it is not clear whether either is competent to sign a new durable power of attorney (DPOA) to ensure financial safety when they can’t handle their own financial affairs.   We will assess Dad and find out. We advise the adult kids accordingly.

The bad news is that our society seems to be in denial that we age. We lose our abilities.  We need help. We pretend that we’ll take care of the legal stuff “later, when I get old”.  When is that?

The good news is that a durable power of attorney form is free, downloadable, and easy to fill out. You need a notary, but it does not require a lawyer unless you don’t understand the meaning of what is being signed or aren’t sure whom to appoint as the agent.   Then it makes sense to get legal advice.  Low income persons can normally get low cost or free legal advice for this kind of issue.

A DPOA is a powerful document with grave consequences in the wrong hands.  The person appointed to be the agent on this document may eventually have full control over the finances, property and future living arrangements of the person signing it.  Therefore, choice of the agent must be made very carefully.  Anyone with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, or criminal activity or poor management of his/her own finances is not a good choice for an agent.

If you are a baby boomer with aging parents, and your parents are over the age of 70, we urge you to have a meeting and discuss what would happen if a parent became incapacitated.  They don’t have to hand over the checkbook now.  But, being prepared for their future can save everyone a lot of grief, money and stress later on.

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