Just about everyone understands that our elders are at greater risk because of the corona virus. The facts are inescapable: risk of serious illness is worse for those over 65, especially with other medical conditions like high blood pressure as one example. Vulnerability to COVID-19 is highest for those 85 and up. What does all this mean for you, a family member?
Getting legal paperwork in order is essential now
It means a scary emotional journey. No one wants to think about it. We feel we can’t control anything. We follow the mandates of social isolation or quarantine, and using all other protective measures we hear about from the CDC but that doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything but staying away. There is one thing you can control though. That is to have your aging parents’ legal documents in order just in case serious illness happens.
We have to face one painful truth: this pandemic could mean that your vulnerable loved one falls victim. It could mean hospitalization at a point when your loved one can’t speak for himself, and you must be that voice or decision maker. As a former public health nurse myself, I have seen risks of contagious disease before but never anything nearly this lethal. The spread of this disease is stunning.
As a lawyer also, I can only urge families to take advantage of the time you and your loved ones have when you must stay at home to find out if all the essential legal documents they need are in place and up to date. That means reviewing 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). Why now? Because you probably have the time to look into this and they do too. Further, you may need some or all of these things sooner than you thought. 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.. Could your parents be among them? Find out. Don’t entirely trust the statement “we took care of all that.” If it is not signed it is not valid. Ask to see it. Perhaps the corona virus threat is an extra motivator.
Don’t you have to go to the lawyer’s office? What if you’re not supposed to travel, and to stay at home? All that you need can likely be done digitally, by scanning and emailing documents back and forth or using the U.S. Mail. My husband and I were in the midst of updating our own legal documents when the stay at home order was issued in CA. We cancelled our in-person meeting, and met with our estate planner on Zoom. We emailed back and forth and the attorney sent us what we needed to fill out. Getting it done is important. If you have multiple trusts, inch-thick packages of paper, you will want to mail them where they need to go. The post office is open.
A New Tool
I recommend a new resource endorsed by the American Bar Association, our 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. The subscription is $9.99 per year renewed automatically until you shut it off.
On one of those frequent calls we hope you are currently making to your aging parents and other loved ones is to ask about the will and trust. Find out when it was last updated. If it’s been years since anyone reviewed it, get it updated. Ask who is appointed as the agent with Power of Attorney and healthcare decision-making authority. Suggest getting MYLO or sign up for it yourself. Then take the time to get all the information you can to store on MYLO. Whether you need it during this crisis or not, you will likely need it at some point. Now there is something you actually CAN control. Get to it and you’ll know you’ve done something positive at this frightening time. For guidance and coaching with difficult aging parents who resist sharing information, contact us at AgingParents.com. We offer you our professional expertise. All appointments are available by phone, Skype or Zoom with your nurse-lawyer, psychologist team.