Just about everyone understands that our elders are at risk of health crises just because of age. Covid taught us a lot about emergencies from an unanticipated source. Most of us understand that our aging loved ones are vulnerable, especially those over 65 years old. Chronic medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and obesity create a higher likelihood of you, the adult children or others, getting that phone call in the middle of the night from a hospital or paramedic. Are you sure your aging parents do have their legal documents done and at the ready?
No one wants to think about it. Some aging parents refuse to even have a conversation about emergencies. They say “everything’s under control, don’t worry about it”. Or they say it’s not going to happen to THEM.
But consider this: Emergency rooms are busy with people coming in every day. Sometimes a heart attack, stroke or other illness could mean your loved one can’t speak for himself, and you must be that voice or decision maker.
As a nurse-lawyer, I can only urge families to take advantage of aging parents who are still capable of making reasonable decisions to find out if all the essential legal documents they need are in place and up to date. If you don’t, any emergency can create unnecessary chaos and stress for you.
What To Review
Ask your aging loved ones to get out their estate planning items (will and/or trust), their Durable Power of Attorney and their Advance Healthcare Directive (also called a healthcare power of attorney or healthcare proxy) and read them over. It makes much more sense to do this when you are not in the middle of a crisis or have had a shock about a health emergency. Do your elders have these documents? How long since they were updated?
Sometimes an aging person had appointed someone to be in charge of their finances, for example, and that person is no longer available, or is herself incapacitated. Maybe an appointee is no longer with us or is estranged. Getting a look at what the papers say can be very revealing and can indicate a need for changing who gets appointed.
One thing my estate planning attorney friends tell me is that a large number of clients hire them to draft or update the will and trust and then the client never finishes the job by actually signing the paperwork. That means the update is useless legally. Don’t entirely trust the statement “we took care of all that.” Maybe they did and maybe it was 30 years ago.
I recommend a resource endorsed by the American Bar Association, the largest volunteer legal organization in the U.S. It is a mobile app called Mind Your Loved Ones (MYLO). It gives individuals and their family members the ability to store their own and each other’s health care directives, critical medical information, and other related data on their phones and to send this information directly to health care providers (e.g. doctors, hospitals, rehab facilities, home health providers, insurance companies, etc.) by email, fax or text. Family users can share information and profiles.
Imagine how this would help you if you are a designated agent on an aging parent’s healthcare directive. If your elder gets hospitalized, you have all their healthcare info, diagnoses, medications and doctors contact data accessible on your phone on MYLO’s private server. It is a subscription service.
1. Find out what legal documents your aging loved ones have and work with them on reviewing these personally.
2. See a lawyer for anything drafted and signed more than a few years ago. Laws change and documents need to be periodically updated.
3. Consider storing legal documents and other health related information on an app so you will have it immediately if an emergency arises with aging parents.
For guidance and coaching with difficult aging parents who resist sharing information, contact us at AgingParents.com. Call to set up an appointment at 866-962-4464 today. We relieve stress!
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com