Added on June 15, 2015 by Jared_Rodgers
My mother recently called me seeking help with updating her and my father's wills. Of course I agreed and was more than happy to help my parents review their wills. Since I was told that I would eventually become the executor of their estate, planning ahead would benefit both my parents and me.
Most of my experience is in providing live-in care services to the elderly and very little on the side of estate planning. I was very curious to go through the estate planning process myself, so this was the perfect opportunity for that experience.
As my mother and I continued to speak, I asked if she had in addition to the will a power of attorney (POA) and an advance directive, also known as a living will. She was not sure - which I knew most likely meant they did not have all the essential documents necessary. I suggested that the three of us meet with the attorney that originally drafted their will back in the '80s to ensure that we have everything we need. They both agreed.
I frequently ask the adult children of our aging clients if they have a will, an advance directive and power of attorney in place for their parents. Many times they do, but at times, I come across families that do not have all the essential estate planning documents; then I witness their struggle as they rush to get the appropriate paperwork in place after their parents have severely declined.
My parents and I met with the attorney late one afternoon. We discovered their current will was sufficient for their current needs and no further revision was necessary. The will is used to define how my parents estate is to be distributed after their death.
In regard to their living wills, that was accomplished by having them complete the Five Wishes booklet published by Aging with Dignity that my mother had received. All that was needed to complete those documents were a few signatures which the attorney assisted with for no additional cost. The advance directive empowers my parents to communicate their desired medical treatment if they are terminally ill or permanently unconscious and not able to verbalize their medical desires.
Last was the power of attorney for my parents. The original thought was to assign me as the primary POA. After speaking with their attorney, it became clear that the best solution was to have my parents as each others primary and me as their secondary. It was explained to us that once a POA is drafted and signed it becomes effective immediately. A power of attorney appoints another person to handle one's personal and financial affairs on behalf of that individual. This means it is extremely important to trust the person you assign to act only on your best interest and not their own. The power of attorney dissolves once the person passes away.
My parents gave me a great gift by getting the essential estate planning documents in place. During this process, I could not help but get emotional because no one wants to experience the passing of his or her parents. I was reminded how much I love and value them both. I treasure the impact they have on my life on a daily basis. As I read through the Five Wishes for my mom and dad, in addition to understanding their wishes during possible medical difficulties, I also came to understand how they want to be remembered. If it were not for this exercise, I would have never known the small details that are meaningful to them both. It reminded me of the opportunity I have now to share my appreciation to them both.
It is important to address these needs and to complete the essential documents to which we have referred to. Also, seek an eldercare attorney or estate planner as each case is unique. Some are more complex than others. Finally, know where the documents can be accessed when they are needed. I know where my parents keep their documents if the need arises, which I pray is not for another 30 years. The hours you take now to plan will save you days of headache at the appointed hour.