When Parents Need Your Help

By Mark T. Coulter, Esquire
Estate Planning Attorney

With advances in lifestyle and medicine in this county, people are living far longer than prior generations. While life may be getting longer, it isn’t always getting better. The natural aging process remains a part of our lives. When our parents get older, children need to recognize that they may need some help.

Perhaps a parent is having physical issues which limit their ability to get out in the world or to provide proper care for themselves. Deterioration of mental acuity is another age-related change that can impair the health, safety and happiness of an older parent. Occasionally these changes are the result of a discrete event, such as a stroke, and the need to assist and/or intervene is obvious. More commonly, the changes have added up over time, and the parent may struggle for a period of time before the existence and extent of the need is obvious to a child.

Decisions may need to be made about a number of factors. Every family faces a different set of circumstances, but common concerns are:

·       Does my parent need help around the home?

·       Are they safe at home?

·       Should they still be driving?

·       Is home-based care or a facility setting appropriate?

·       Who can take care of the necessary arrangements?

·       How will the bills get paid?

These decisions are always easier if the parents have planned ahead for these possibilities, and having a comprehensive estate plan in place for these post-retirement years can help the family succeed in the years ahead.  Such an estate plan might include tools and techniques such as:

Revocable Living Trust – This planning technique permits a parent to act as their own trustee while they are strong, while appointing you (and/or others) as successor trustee. If the parent can no longer take care of their financial affairs, this successor trustee can take  over as trustee of the trust, thereby gaining control over all trust assets without the need to petition a court to declare someone incompetent/incapacitated not appoint a guardian.

Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will –  These documents permit a person to specify who has authority to make health care decisions when necessary, providing both power to the right persons, and preventing interference by others. Further, an adult can specify here how to make the critical “end-of-life decisions” which might arise later.

 “HIPAA” Authorization Form – As health care in this region has become more corporate and less personal, it is important that families be able to keep open communications with health care professionals and facilities. Unfortunately, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, laws often prevent the health care providers from talking with family. A broad family HIPAA authorization provides people within a parent’s trust circle with the ability to get information regardless of where and when treatment is provided, keeping everyone in the loop. Many HIPAA authorizations provided by a health care provider are designed to let them talk to insurance companies to get paid, and might provide a space to include one designated contact person, but this excludes other family members and/or friends that have information to obtain or contribute.

Medicaid/VA Planning – Part of long term living is considering how the expense of long term care may be addressed. For families without strong private long term care insurance policies, a part of their estate plan may anticipate the future need to qualify for governmental benefits from Medicaid or the VA Administration to cover the high cost of long-term care. By planning in advance, a person doesn’t need to become destitute before qualifying for such benefits.

Having a plan in place will provide invaluable peace of mind for the family, particularly if it is later determined that a nursing home may be the best option. Take the time now to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney so you and your parents will be prepared, whatever the future holds.

About Our Law Office

At the Estate Planning Centers at Coulter & May, P.C., we devote our practice to estate planning and assisting families through such transition times with estate and trust administration counseling. We offer guidance and advice to our clients in every area of estate planning, and offer comprehensive and personalized estate planning consultations. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar or to book a consultation directly, please contact us at (412) 253-7526 or visit us online at www.estateplanningcenters.com.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is a conversational summary of a complex area of law and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. No person should rely upon the content of this article for making any decisions, and should instead consult with appropriate legal and tax professionals.