Caring for Your Parents: The Conversation (Part Two)
Legalities are important to help your parents fulfill their wishes
ANCHORAGE - So often we hear the term “putting your affairs in order,” but what does that really mean? It could mean many things, but for adults of a certain age it should mean having certain legal documents in place that can dictate their wishes should they become incapacitated.
Adult children can help their aging parents make sure they have the proper documents. Jackie Brunton says it took her by surprise when her normally outgoing and independent mother started to “slip.”
“She made good money, traveled all over the world, so it was it was very difficult,” said Brunton, whose mother was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Brunton says her mother had always handled her own affairs, but suddenly stopped paying bills or, just as frustrating, would pay certain bills more than once. Brunton knew she had to step in. She convinced her mother to give her “power of attorney” so she could take charge of her finances, and then slowly added other documents.
Anchorage elder attorney Ilona Bessenyey says there are three basic documents that older adults should have on file: a “power of attorney,” “health care directive,” and a “trust” or “will.”
“The problem,” said Bessenyey, “is when you don’t have the documents in place you don’t really know who’s going to be stepping in to take charge. This is your way of saying, 'this is who I trust and this is what I would like them to do and what kind of responsibilities they have.'”
Bessenyey says one of the most important things to consider when drafting these types of legal documents is determining who you want to be named to act on your behalf. It’s where “trust“ is critical. The person who takes on “power of attorney,” for example, will have access to all the person’s finances, including bank accounts and other funds. The person who is named in the “health care directive” will make decisions about how the person lives and even how they die.. Once those things are determined Bessenyey said people need to take it a step further.
“I also tell my clients that it's fine to have these documents but if you don’t take them and discuss them with your family and just put them in a drawer, that's not very helpful either. It's great that you've written them down but you really need to take that additional step and talk to people about it.”
A “will” or a “trust” is the third document that is very important to have. Not only will it take longer to settle your estate if you die without one, but state law will determine who will get your assets: which is not necessarily the people you might chose.
Jackie Brunton says she feels lucky she could help her mother to make those decisions while she was still clear-headed and to put them in writing.
“It just took all the guess-work out of it.”
Brunton says it offered her peace of mind knowing that when her mother did eventually pass on several years ago that her wishes had been honored.
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