Once you’ve addressed your loved one’s immediate needs, both you and the person you care for need to think about planning for the future.
Whenever possible, involve the person who is sick or disabled in the planning. Even if it’s uncomfortable for you to discuss money, wills, sickness, and death, you will avoid problems later on and will help make sure you’re doing the right thing for both of you. Decision-making before a crisis arises is much easier than trying to make important decisions when everyone is stressed or when decisions need to be made immediately.
Most professionals strongly recommend that all adults have a durable power of attorney—someone to make decisions in case the person becomes unable to do so. Encourage the person you care for to consider taking this step.
Have an open discussion with everyone involved. Acknowledge that while these are difficult topics to discuss, it is important to know what someone expects. Encourage the person who needs care to express his wishes about health care, living arrangements, finances and decision-making.
Ask all family members what they expect or assume about the future. You can use some of the questions listed in the side bar to help get you started. Start with the least controversial issues. If a topic becomes heated, try to find some point you all agree on. If you’re concerned that family conflicts could make planning difficult, chances are the conflicts would be worse during a crisis and decisions would be even more difficult.
Take An Inventory
Help the person make a list of her assets and update it regularly. Make copies and let a trusted person know where they are. Include:
- Bank accounts
- Certificates of deposit
- Money market accounts
- Stocks and bonds
- Retiree or pension benefits
- Promissory notes
- Contents of safe deposit boxes
- Insurance policies
Consult An Attorney
Many people have never hired an attorney or thought they needed one. But a long-term illness or disability can change lives dramatically, and it is helpful to have expert advice to avoid possible devastating effects on you or your family.
Your needs will determine what kind of lawyer will be best. Perhaps a lawyer who practices general law will be able to do everything that’s required. But if the financial situation is more complicated, you may need a lawyer with experience in estate planning to help you sort through income, property, bank accounts, and other assets. Lawyers who specialize in elder law are most familiar with disability laws and with Medicare and Medicaid eligibility and benefits.
If you need help finding a lawyer, ask trusted friends and associates for recommendations. Other professionals like bankers, accountants, and insurance agents may also have suggestions. Local bar associations often have referral services to help you find a lawyer with expertise in the area you need. (Look in the Yellow Pages under “Attorneys’ Referral & Information”.)
Some Of The Services A Lawyer Can Help You With:
- Wills: Everyone over age 18 should have a will. Most attorneys in general practice can draw up a simple will. If a will was written long ago, review and update it if necessary.
- Estate planning: If there are large assets or there are complicated business or legal considerations, consult an attorney who specializes in estate planning and is familiar with the state laws concerning estates and taxes.
- Durable Power of Attorney: This legal document, signed by a competent person, gives another person the authority to handle some or all of the first person’s affairs. It continues to operate even if the person who signs it becomes incapacitated.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: This legal document allows another person to make medical decisions for someone who has lost the ability to make their own decisions. It can include detailed specifics about what should be done in the way of treatment and life-sustaining supports. It allows a trusted friend or family member to direct the physician according to the patient’s wishes. The person who signs the durable power can change or revoke it at any time. Everyone over age 18 should have a durable power of attorney that includes health care.
- Advance Directives: Sometimes called living wills, these allow the person to give instructions about medical treatments that he does or doesn’t want if he becomes terminally ill and is unable to express his wishes. Hospitals and nursing homes are required by law to inform a person about advance directives before he is admitted. However, he is not required to sign an advance directive in order to be admitted.
- Guardian: The court appoints a guardian to control and manage another person’s affairs and/or property. Guardianship is expensive and time consuming and is rarely necessary if other procedures like a durable power of attorney are in place.
Note: Forms for simple wills, advance directives, and durable power of attorney are available at office supply stores. It is possible to complete these forms without the help of an attorney. But unless you’re sure that you understand all the options and all the facts, it’s best to consult with an attorney before drawing up legal documents.
Review the person’s insurance policies and any other health care benefits he may have, for instance veteran’s benefits. Learn what services each policy does and does not cover. For example, many people don’t know that Medicare covers long-term care in nursing homes for only a limited amount of time and only under specific circumstances.
To find out about eligibility for health care services in the home and in residential care, call your local Home and Community Services (HCS) Office. Regional HCS numbers are on the back of this handbook; that office will direct you to your local office.
What kind of care do you want if you become terminally ill; who will make decisions for you if you’re unable; how will you pay for long-term care if you need it? It’s never too soon to make choices that will greatly affect you and the people you love.
Planning for tomorrow makes good sense. You can ease some of your worries by knowing you have a plan for the “what ifs”?
Originally written and published by the Aging and Adult Services Administration Department of Social and Health Services, State of Washington. Reprinted with permission.
© Washington State Department of Social and Health Services