It Is Never Too Early To Plan, But It Can Be Too Late
Families often call ask how to assist with financial or healthcare decision-making when a loved one is beset with dementia, a terminal illness or another illness or injury. I ask whether the loved one has a written power of attorney or healthcare directive? Can he or she handle his or her own
checkbook? doctors' appointments? household decisions? Often by the time families call me, the answer to these questions is 'no' and the only course of action is asking a court to appoint a guardian for finances or for healthcare, which is expensive and time-consuming.
It happens all the time to other families, but this summer it happened to mine. My father-in-law died in July after an eight-month cancer battle. My mother-in-law cared for him, shuttling to and from treatments, preparing food, cleaning up after all the messes, and even managing his urinary catheter. My father-in-law wanted to stay at home for the duration, and she made it possible. He had no written financial power of attorney or healthcare directive, but as his spouse her input was honored and there were few disputes. My mother-in-law was also a joint owner on many of his accounts, making easier her ability to access his funds for his care when needed.
After he passed, there was more work and more stress for my mother-in-law, picking up the pieces and administering his final affairs. Within a month, her own cardiac crises landed her in intensive care, intubated and unable to make or communicate decisions. She had taken to heart my advice to put a financial power of attorney in place after her husband's death, but had not told anyone where to find it; and she had not finished a healthcare directive before her unexpected illness. It is never too early to plan, but suddenly it was too late.
Digging through piles of paper, folders and envelopes, we found the financial power of attorney and were able to access financial accounts and keep up with the mail and bills. Without the healthcare directive, however, her children had no insight into her preferences for what level of care she would prefer in this crisis and the hospital demanded unanimity from her children for all decisions because she had not appointed a healthcare agent.
As an estate planning attorney, I knew that if any healthcare disputes arose among her children, or if the hospital disagreed with the children's decisions, the need for a court-appointed guardian for healthcare may arise. I also knew that if the house or car needed to be sold or if any financial institution refused to accept the written power of attorney, the need for a court-appointed guardian for finances may arise.
Planning in advance can avoid the costly delays of guardianship. All adults should make a financial power of attorney and a healthcare directive. These documents can be easily updated if there is a change of health or finances, or if you simply change your mind about who you wish to appoint as a decision-maker. There is such profound need and public policy support for having these documents in place that the Maryland Office of the Attorney General publishes the statutory form financial power of attorney as well as a booklet containing the Maryland Advance Directive and instructions:
Maryland Statutory Form Financial Power of Attorney
Estate planning doesn't need to be expensive or complicated; it just needs to be done. Writing down your plan while you are well and healthy helps prevent the difficulty and grief of your loved ones discovering that a court proceeding is needed if an accident or illness renders you unable to manage your affairs. Working with an attorney to develop and implement your plan provides further assurance that the agents you appoint and the guidance you provide will be honored when the need arises. It is never too early to plan, but it can be too late.
Attorney Alice Young of Nusinov Smith, LLP helps clients put their wishes into effect through thoughtful estate planning, including drafting wills, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, and many types of trusts. Ms. Young manages a wide range of estate administration matters including the probate of small and regular estates, coordination of appropriate estate-related tax filings, and managing probate filings before the Orphans' Courts throughout the State. Nusinov Smith LLP is a full-service fiduciary law firm, providing comprehensive estate, trust, and guardianship planning and administration services, as well as pursuing and defending fiduciary litigation on behalf of individuals with respect to their interests in estates and trusts. Ms. Young received her Juris Doctor with honors from the University of Baltimore and is admitted to practice before the Court of Appeals of Maryland.
A Generation in Denial: A Call for Faster Action
No matter how digitally connected our world is today, 8 million of today's older adults are socially disconnected. Although, that AARP estimate on isolation is believed to be a conservative one, per this recent
Public Policy & Aging Report
entirely to the topic.
As more families enter the sandwich generation category - caught between caring for older adults, children and sometimes grandchildren as well - the problem is compounded.
Home care, even for just a few hours a week, can make a life-saving, life-changing, independence-prolonging difference for older adults. It also reduces the burdens of time, energy and the emotional toll on primary caregivers, allowing them to provide support for a much longer duration. And it fights the rising tide of isolation that is doing far too much damage to current seniors and their families.
Consider your next conversation with your loved one about home care. Do your due diligence first about how it works and how it can help (it's not just for people who need medical care at home), and present it in the favorable light of maintaining independence, instead of taking it away. Take time to think about it and come up with the best arrangement together, instead of waiting until it's too late to make a difference.
Getting a Good Night Sleep Is Important for Senior Health
Did you ever have a restless night and feel groggy the entire next day? Just imagine experiencing sleep deprivation on a long-term basis. Some seniors do. The
American Sleep Association
50-70 million adults suffer from a sleep disorder - many of them seniors. Don't dismiss it as another side effect of aging. Contrary to popular belief, maturing adults need the same amount of sleep as they did when younger. While that number may vary for each person, it should not lessen with age. Sleep remains important to overall health and well-being for everyone at any age.