Updated: Aug 22, 2022
The job of caregiver sometimes starts abruptly or over time. Once you realize that you are that person, there are critical first steps to take to ensure success. Ask your parent to see a copy of their Durable Power of Attorney and Healthcare Directive, particularly if your parent is no longer independent with one or more activities of daily living. If these documents were drawn up by anyone other than an Elder Law Attorney, have them reviewed for validity and completeness. The Power of Attorney should specifically allow the Agent to protect assets through unrestricted gifts and to set up an irrevocable trust. The Healthcare Directive should empower the Agent to work with the treating physician to get a DMOST order (DE Medical Order for Scope of Treatment) in place for end-of-life decisions.
Do not be surprised to learn that your parent does not have these documents. THE STATUS OF CHILD, SPOUSE, SIBLING, OR PARENT DOES NOT PROVIDE LEGAL AUTHORITY TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR A DISABLED PERSON. If your parent lacks these documents, please take action immediately to get them in place. If your parent is no longer independent with activities of daily living, go to an Elder Law Attorney. Should your parent become unable to make their own decisions, it will be too late. The only option then is to seek Guardianship through the court.
Do not procrastinate on this. You cannot function in the role as Power of Attorney without proper documentation. Sometimes a parent gets defensive, may be paranoid, about giving someone authority over their money or person. Other excuses include: they don’t trust lawyers, or they don’t have money for “that.” Immediately begin to work on breaking down these barriers. Enlist the help of your parent’s family doctor or pastor if necessary.
Resist the temptation to go on the internet and find a form to use for “free.” How hard can it be? They are just forms anyway, right? In the context of managing the affairs of a disabled parent, taking this approach is plain negligent. It is all about getting valid documentation that provides the type and scope of authority needed. Then you must learn how to carry out the job of Power of Attorney and Healthcare Agent properly. Only an Attorney can provide this counsel.