Becoming a caretaker for your aging or parent or experiencing a serious illness may be one of the most difficult times in your life. Suddenly, mom is becoming forgetful and none of your siblings want to face what may be the signs of dementia. A parent becomes seriously ill more than once a year and it seems as though each illness leads to another hospital visit. Doctors, staff, insurance companies, and banks, will only speak to mom or dad unless they have signed a current power of attorney and advanced directive. As the child, you may feel that you are being hit from all directions: legal, financial, and medical, and it may feel impossible to stop and plan for long-term care. Navigating incapacity can be an overwhelming time and often, clients often don’t even know what questions to ask.
First and foremost, it is important to ensure that mom and dad have a properly drafted and signed durable power of attorney and advanced directive, (sometimes called a designation of healthcare surrogate or medical power of attorney). If these documents are not in place, have this conversation with your parents before they are unable to sign them due to incapacity. Ensure that they have named an agent, (often a child, family member, or friend), who is able and willing to act, and an alternate agent in the event something happens to the primary agent. Confirm that they are content with the persons they have chosen and that no changes are necessary. The documents should be accessible and copies of the advanced directive should be given to their doctors. These documents can avoid a legal guardianship, which can be time consuming, expensive, and invasive to your family. A guardianship is a court procedure which can be avoided with proper planning.
Next, consider your parents financial situation and medical needs. Will your parents be able to remain in their home with home healthcare? Can they afford to pay for that type of service? Will they eventually need to move into a nursing home for full time care? Although you may not know the answer to all of these questions, it is important to open the communication with parents, doctors, insurance providers, and financial advisors to determine what the future may hold. The State of Florida currently considers the cost of a nursing home to be approximately $5,000 per month, but the reality is that the cost is upwards of $7,500 per month. Although your parents may have planned for the future, a nursing home may cost $60,000 – $90,000 per year. An eighty (80) year old woman may be suffering from such severe memory loss or another serious illness that it is dangerous for her to live alone, but her life expectancy is 9.64 years, (based on the social security actuarial life table). The cost of her nursing home care, on the low end, will be close to $600,000 for her final years. It is heartbreaking to see a family’s life savings be spent in such a rapid amount of time. The State of Florida offers financial benefits in the form of Medicaid, but the qualifying asset and income limits are quite strict. There are also rules surrounding gifting funds and divesting one’s self of assets so it is very important to review these issues with a qualified professional, or team of professionals.
Finally, the most important decision surrounds the care and comfort your parents receive. Providing the best quality of life will drive all of the legal and financial decisions. At Wetherington Hamilton, we can recommend professionals who can provide quality services at reasonable prices, always keeping your best interest first.