You can’t predict when something might happen to your aging parent. Whether an unexpected illness leads to a hospitalization, or a fall requires rehabilitation at a nursing home; in these instances it’s vital that your parents have their essential legal documents in order so that you have a good picture of their state of affairs.
Here are ten questions to ask your senior parents to make sure your family is prepared for the unexpected. It may be best to gather the answers to these questions over the course of days or weeks rather than springing them on Mom or Dad all at once.
1. Do you have a durable power of attorney?
Durable power of attorney designates who will take care of your affairs if you are unable to decide for yourself in the case of mental or physical incapacitation. Seniors can designate one person to handle health decisions (the health care proxy) and another for financial decisions (the financial proxy) or they can designate one person for both roles.
A living will, also known as an advance health care directive, is used to indicate choices about end-of-life care. For example: Would you want a ventilator and feeding tube used to keep you alive even in an irreversible coma? Do you want CPR initiated if your heart stops, even if you are terminally ill? Make sure the health care proxy is aware of your parent’s decisions.
3. Do you have a will or living trust?
Wills and living trusts are the legal methods used to designate what happens to your possessions and money after you die. A will simply specifies, in writing, who gets what, and how much. A living trust is an alternative to a will. A senior who prefers a trust puts their assets in the trust and names a person to take charge in case of death or incapacitation.
4. Do you have long-term care insurance or another plan in case long-term care is required?
The national average cost for assisted living is $3,074, according to an analysis of the pricing of communities in A Place for Mom’s network. In some regions it’s much higher. This can decimate a senior’s nest egg rapidly, so it’s important to know if your parent has insurance to offset these costs, or some other plan in place should long-term-care needs arise. If your parent does have long-term insurance, read the policy to make sure you understand it. Call the insurer if you have questions about what is and is not covered.
5. Have you made sure that these documents are current?
All of the documents we’ve mentioned need to be up-to-date and current for them to work properly. Encourage your parent to revisit estate planning and care planning measures each year.
6. Where can I find these documents if I ever need them?
It doesn’t do any good for your parent to have these documents in order if they can’t be found in an emergency. Make sure you know where they are and how to get to them. For example, if they’re in a safe deposit box, see to it that a trusted family member has a key and permission to access the box. If they’re in a fire-safe, someone besides the parent should have the combination.
7. Is someone advising you on financial matters?
Older parents are often fiercely independent regarding their finances, which is understandable. Even so, it’s important to know who is advising your parents regarding financial decisions. This knowledge will not only allow you to reach the adviser in case of an emergency, but also gives you a chance to make sure your parent is working with someone who is reputable.
8. If you can no longer take care of yourself, have you thought about where you’d prefer living?
Start the discussion about long-term care options before crisis hits. Get your parent involved early, and look at options before the need arises. This gives your parent an opportunity to provide input about preferences and to get involved in the process rather than having to passively accept arrangements hastily made at the last minute by well-meaning but uninformed loved ones. A Place for Mom can help you identify quality senior communities and home care providers so that your family has a plan B in place. To help in your planning, we also encourage you to compare your parent’s current cost of living with the costs of assisted living and in-home care in your area using our handy Cost of Care Calculator.
9. Do you visit the doctor regularly?
Your parent may be seeing several specialists in addition to a primary care physician. If your parent becomes hospitalized, information from one of these doctors could be critical. If possible, ask your parent to provide you a list of physicians seen regularly, and how to contact them. On the other hand, some seniors’ may have the opposite issue. Their idea of a doctor’s visit may be a weekly session in front of the TV with Dr. House. This question can also help prompt a meaningful discussion about your parent’s general health and well-being.
10. Do you feel like you understand why you’re taking the medicines you’ve been prescribed?
Many seniors end up on a dozen medicines or more. This question can help you gauge whether your parent is able to manage his or her medications independently, and also may provide a clearer overall picture of medical status. And just as it’s important to know who your parent’s physicians are in case of emergency, it’s also important to know what medicines your parent takes. Being able to provide this information to hospital staff in case of a medical crisis can be vital to effective treatment.
We encourage you to join the conversation. Have you had to deal with an emergency involving an aging parent who did not have their affairs in order? Do you have advice of your own to share? Please comment below.
* Image courtesy Flickr user Kevin_Mayer, under Creative Commons License (commercial use allowed)