Are Your Children Older Than You?

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When does the adult child become the parent? This concept of a role reversal of the adult child/parent relationship most often plays out during the parents’ older age when responsibility is dramatically shifted, when dependency is reversed. At the beginning of childhood, the older person takes care and charge of their young; but at the end of parental lives, the young may need to take care and charge of their old. As attorneys, we are used to solving problems quickly and giving advice to our clients. However, when it hits close to home, we all face the same struggles with this flip of roles. While you may have valid and well-intended concern for your parent’s physical, financial, and emotional well-being, your parent may deny their limitations, see your offers to help as intrusive, or an unwelcome usurping of their independence. So, how do you know when you should take action and what action?

Age-related decline can happen quickly, and in many cases, seniors are skilled at concealing or playing down new and worsening problems. Here are just four warning signs:

NO. 1 Home Environment.

A change in the senior’s surroundings can provide many clues as to how they are doing. For instance, a prior stickler for neatness and organization now surrounded by excess clutter and unopened mail may indicate cognitive problems, spoiled or no food in the refrigerator may signal trouble meeting their nutritional needs, or stock piles of expired medications may mean they are not taking medications as prescribed. It may be time to discuss if they need more help at home to keep them safe.

NO. 2 Weight loss.

If weight loss is evident, you should talk to your loved one about your concern and schedule a doctor’s appointment as causes of weight loss can range from cancer to dementia, depression or medication.

NO. 3 Changes in Balance and Mobility.

If a loved one is unsteady, they may be a fall risk which can cause serious injury and complications. You should schedule an appointment with their physician to discuss causes and options to keep them safe and mobile, such as removal of tripping hazards, physical therapy, mobility aids, home health or assisted living.

NO. 4 Emotional Well-being.

Withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, or loss of interest in hobbies may signal depression. Changes in basic home maintenance and personal hygiene can also be an indicator of dementia or other problems, like dehydration. A call to the doctor, again, is warranted with these symptoms.

If your parent could not manage their own affairs, will you or someone responsible have legal authority to handle matters for them? Note, if there is early stage cognitive impairment time is of the essence to get important legal documents updated.

Health Care Decision Makers. If your parent does not have a health care power of attorney, mental health care power of attorney, and living will they should. These documents allow someone they choose to handle personal and medical decisions when necessary, and give guidance for end of life medical treatment. These documents help reduce family conflict and court involvement.

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Financial Decision Makers. If your parent could no longer make wise financial decisions, do they have a financial power of attorney and/or trust in effect to allow someone to continue paying their bills and handling investments? Again, without proper documents your family could end up at court.

Review Will and Trust. The will and/or trust should be reviewed every few years and updated as needed. A trust can be particularly valuable protection tool against financial exploitation for persons with cognitive impairment.

Organize important papers and financial records. Where are the important papers of life such as birth and marriage certificates, financial statements, deeds, etc.? Do you know their estate planning attorney, accountant, financial adviser, and/ or medical providers? Even if your parent does not wish to divulge this information now, you can ask them to organize it for you in case of need later.

Discuss long-term care plans. If your parent needed home health, assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing care do you know how and where they would prefer to receive care? What can they afford? Would they qualify for VA Aid & Attendance Pension or Medicaid (Arizona Long Term Care System) to help pay for long-term care? Do they wish to protect their assets?

Check or to find an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney for help.

The key to facilitating the role reversal is to be observant and talk with your parents to learn their wishes, provide them with information, bring in other professionals such as caregivers, medical professionals, attorneys, financial advisers, etc., as needed, and view your role as advocate, rather than boss. Sounds like your day job, right? Stephanie A. Bivens

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