Your parents are in their 80s, but they are doing fine. They live in their own home, manage their finances, participate in hobbies and social events, travel, go to various doctors and specialists as needed, and keep in touch with family—they even navigate new technology fairly easily. You really have no reason to worry about them now—but how long will that last? As our parents age, it’s only a matter of time until something happens to jeopardize their independence. As your parents are approaching that inevitable event, when is the right time to take steps to protect them before it happens? As Elder Law and Estate Planning attorneys, we believe there is no time like the present.
Signs That it May Be Time to Step in
Obviously, if a parent falls and breaks a hip or is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you will have no choice but to take action to help them. What we are encouraging you to do is to make sure certain protections are put in place before a catastrophic event makes it necessary. How do you know when it’s time? Here are some typical markers:
- Advanced age. Depending on the typical lifespan in your family, reaching a certain age milestone is as good a catalyst as any. Once your parent reaches 75—or perhaps 80 if you have longevity in your genes—it’s important that you sit down with them to encourage them to do some important things. Even if your parent is perfectly healthy and active at this age, stick to your guns and get some documents signed.
- Declining health. As you see your parent becoming less active and less able to do the things they have always loved, like taking walks, gardening, traveling, and seeing friends, take the opportunity to talk to them about their options.
- Death of a spouse. When a parent is left a widow or widower, this can be a good time to review legal documents, downsize their living arrangement, and help them get rid of stuff they have been holding on to.
- Serious diagnosis. Certainly, if your parent is diagnosed with a terminal illness or a cognitive disorder such as Alzheimer’s, you should insist that they take care of some business before it becomes impossible for them to make their own decisions.
- Early signs of cognitive decline. It can be difficult to catch early signs of dementia, particularly if you don’t see your parent regularly. If they are telling you about other people’s inappropriate reactions to them, they can’t account for their time, bills are going unpaid, or you see other red flags, it’s important that you help them get their affairs in order as soon as possible.
It is not easy to tell an elderly parent that they need to make changes in their lifestyles or make end-of-life decisions—especially when they still feel healthy and capable. However, this difficult conversation can make life much easier for you and your parent in the years ahead.
What You Can Do to Help an Elderly Parent Avoid a Disaster
Once you’ve decided it’s a good time to intervene with your parents, what exactly do you need to do? Basically, you want to make sure they are in good legal, physical, and emotional health. To do that, we recommend the following:
- Sign legal documents. Now is the time to make sure your parents have signed and updated Healthcare and Financial Powers of Attorney, a Will that reflects their current assets, heirs, and wishes, and that their end-of-life wishes are known.
- Consider selling the family home. Sorting through memories and belongings, passing on treasured items, and downsizing to a more manageable residence are best accomplished when your parents are in good physical and mental health. It will probably feel too soon for everyone involved—but that’s far better than too late!
- Help them find a new home. Where does it make sense for your mom or dad to live as they approach the end of their lives? This decision involves not just whether they will buy a condo or rent an apartment but also where they will be geographically. Which adult child is best able to help? Where is the weather going to be most tolerable? Talking through these decisions together will make the transition easier for them.
- Hold regular family meetings. This sounds more formal than it needs to be. If your parents don’t live near at least one of their children, make sure one or more family members are seeing them in person on a regular basis to assess their wellbeing and help with tasks that are becoming more difficult for them.
- Get in touch with specialists. At the first sign of physical or cognitive decline, it’s important that you help your parents find the doctors and specialists they need to get an early diagnosis and start treatment, if necessary.
The Elder Law team at Ross & Shoalmire does more than just handle legal documents for our elderly clients. We also help with these other areas of need. When you work with our team, you can expect us to address all of your legal, financial, residential, and healthcare needs. We have connections in these various areas throughout the ArkLaTex and are proud to be of service to our clients.