Last year, I joined with my daughter in being willing to become legal guardian for my mother. While my mother had at one time drafted an estate plan naming the person that she preferred to have assist her with day-to-day decisions and medical care when she needed help, that individual was not able to provide the level of care and help that she needed. So, when modifying her estate plan was no longer an option, we petitioned to become her legal guardians with her consent. Since our appointment last fall, I have come to realize that there are several things that we should have done once we received her letters of authority. But to be fair, my mother was not quite ready to be dependent on anyone else and would not willing to provide everything all at once. Here are the top five things that we should have checked off within the first two months of being her guardian.
- Get the full medical history. This is not as easy as it sounds. Memories fail over time and somethings are not so easily revealed. However, as legal guardians, we had could have reviewed her medical records at any time. Looking back, I would have started with small interviews asking her about her health history, past surgeries, known allergies and reaction, current conditions, medications, all her treating doctors and what they were prescribing her. Then I could have compiled all this information into either a spreadsheet or some type of binder. However, being that my daughter and I were co-guardians an online document that could be easily accessible to both of us at a moment’s notice would have been the best option.
- Gain access to all online health portals and send letters to doctors. To know what was being done, we should have asked to be added to all her online health portals. This way we could have had her information directly from the doctor rather than relying on her failing memory. While both of us attended appointments with her and split the list of doctors, a letter of introduction with a copy of our Letters of Authority would have been better. We could have expressed our goals, wishes and expectations with those doctors in a letter and outside of any appointment for my mother. That letter and a copy of the Letters of Authority would have been added to her medical file. When I was able to get copies of the Letters of Authority to medical providers, those doctors and medical treatment providers were more than happy to ensure that we were consulted on treatment decisions.
- Determine the level of daily assistance needed and research home health nurses or agencies. My mother was adamant that she did not need any help. Looking back, we could have researched home health agencies with her and determined exactly what level of care. However, we involved her in decisions as we should have and took her at her word that she did not need help.
- Limit the number of medications at the home. I recall when my parents-in-law had issues because they took each other’s medications. When our parents age, their memory does fade, and it can be easy to forget if medications were taken. Limiting medications that can be taken at will is a good way to prevent an accidental overdose of medications. Toward the end, we discovered that some devices that dispense medications may be covered by insurance. However, I had a hard time connecting with representatives to confirm this. So, purchase a pill dispenser for the week and filling it up once a week is a solution until a medication dispensing device can be obtained.
- Pre-plan and pre-pay for a funeral. While my mother and I would discuss what her wishes for her funeral were, we did not speak with a funeral home. Many funeral homes can pre-plan and have ways to pre-pay for a funeral. There needs to be funds either set aside or paid over so that a loved one’s wishes for a funeral and burial can be met. I did not realize my mother had wanted to do organ donation until the hospital informed me that “she had checked the box.” I honestly did not believe with my mother’s age, number of medications, and health conditions that she could have donated. But she could and did. Her choice to help someone live after her passing was honored. While organ donation is a tough decision to make, it is one to be discussed along with funeral plans. Along with those two decisions, conversations should be had about where to be buried. Luckily, I had had that conversation with my mother and knew that she wanted to be buried with her extended family in her hometown. The days following her passing would have been easier as far as the number of decisions to be made, if we had just done a bit more than discuss her wishes and started making arrangements for her funeral and burial.
If you find yourself trying to decide whether your aging parent needs more care, have an honest conversation with them about either completing an estate plan or petitioning the court for appointment. If you need more information about options for caring legally for your aging parents, contact our office for a free telephone consultation with one of our Client Coordinators.