Why is it so Important to Have Your Aging Parents Sign Documents Now?
My father had a stroke 2 weeks ago. Now…he is in a skilled nursing facility; I’m writing checks and making decisions without him. Everyone wants a copy of my Power of Attorney (POA). I’ve just spent the day going through his mail and making what plans are possible to make when there is nothing certain about his health or his future. Having gone through this with my mother just over a year ago, I’m familiar with many needs of aging parents.
The difference this time is that my father is not sitting here discussing these issues with me. The emotional turmoil is easy to describe: sadness, fear, guilt, frustration, anger and I-miss-him. The hard part is figuring out what is best for him as we walk this final path. Some visits are okay and I know he is well-cared-for. It’s when the vacant look is in his eyes and even he knows he is not making sense…all I can do is be there and hold his hand.
Have the discussions. Get the papers signed. Because no matter what your situation is with your aging parents, you will need to know their wishes and to have legal power in order to make the best decisions. You’ll want to honor your parent’s wishes and make things happen, all while living your own life. You’ll learn from the experiences of friends with elderly parents and you can read everything available and meet with professionals. But this final path in life can be the loneliest and most personal of all, for you and for your parent.
What Documents do I Need?
Talk. About. Death. Find out how your parent feels about life-sustaining measures. Find out if they want to be cremated, have a traditional funeral, where they want to be buried. The first time I brought up the subject of death with my parents, they both said, “Oh, we never think about that.” Great start. I pieced the answers together through a series of conversations. It took several years. Thankfully, I had time. There are some differences among states, but familiarize yourself with the following:
- Advance Directive or Living Will
- POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment)
- Durable Power of Attorney allows you to make financial and medical decisions if your parent becomes incapacitated.
- Will-gives you needed power after your parent is gone. Everyone “knows” how important a Will is, but if someone close to you dies without one, its importance increases instantly and dramatically.
I cannot say that the last six years of caring for my parents has been easy, but organization, legal paperwork and knowing their desires has made the process far easier to navigate. The truth is this: nothing prepares you for the emotional loss of your parent, no matter what your relationship is. I’ve been a coveted quarterback all of my life, guarded by two loving people. Now I’m running with the ball, on my own. My husband will tell you that football has never been my passion, but this is the analogy that dances in my head.
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