Caring for an aging loved one isn’t an easy task, and it’s even more complicated when you live far away. How do you make sure your loved one is safe, healthy and happy when you can’t be there to check on them?
Start with this list of tips we’ve created for providing the best care you can from afar.
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Recommended estate planning documents to have
Gather essential information about your loved one, such as their health history, insurance information, and contact information for medical professionals, friends, and others in their local network. Having all of this information at hand is key to helping them stay connected and getting the care they need.
PBS suggests keeping a care notebook so that all of your resources are in one place and easy to access, which is especially critical if a medical emergency ever occurs.
Let’s break down a few estate planning documents you’ll need.
HIPAA disclosure form
Laws prevent medical providers from giving information to anyone (even you) without prior authorization. Ask your loved one to complete a signed HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) disclosure form so that providers can share information with you. They will need to sign one disclosure per entity (insurance company, doctor, hospital, etc.).
You may be able to get a copy of the form, but the original will be kept on file with the medical provider.
Durable power of attorney (POA)
Power of attorney gives the person nominated the power to act legally (open/close accounts, sign legally binding documents, and conduct transactions with financial institutions) on behalf of an individual. This power can be broad or specific depending on how the POA is drafted.
Note that a “durable” power of attorney means that the power continues even if the individual granting the power becomes incapacitated; if not specified in the document, the power will cease upon incapacitation.
Durable medical power of attorney
Medical power of attorney is similar to a POA except that it refers specifically to medical decisions. Many people have an advanced directive (also known as a living will) that provides guidance on medical issues.
While advanced directives provide helpful guidance, they are only part of your medical decision making. The Durable Medical POA is unique in that it is the only document that legally grants authority to someone else to make medical decisions on their behalf.
It should go without saying that an up-to-date, signed will is necessary.
A will allows an individual to specify what happens to their physical body and possessions after they pass away. If someone dies without a will, then state law will dictate the funeral proceedings and who the heirs will be, which is always the next of kin based on the rules of intestate succession.
An estate without a will will not be able to direct inheritance to anyone other than the person’s heirs regardless of the wishes of the decedent.
Updated beneficiary forms
Ask your loved one to update all accounts that have a beneficiary designation. Many people have a deceased spouse, ex-spouse or long-estranged relative still listed as a beneficiary.
When listed beneficiaries are not up-to-date, funds will either go to people whom the deceased no longer intended or they will go to the estate and will require probate. You or your loved one will need to contact each financial institution (retirement account manager, life Insurance company, etc.) to update the beneficiaries.
Make sure their basic needs are met
For people who are aging, basic needs aren’t always so basic. Think about your loved one’s situation and determine where there may be gaps in care.
Are they able to prepare healthy meals? If not, look into whether they’re eligible for a local Meals on Wheels program.
If your loved one has problems with mobility, their home may need to be modified, perhaps by installing walk-in showers and ramps. While you may not be able to make these changes yourself, you can hire a contractor or handyman local to them.
Someone with Alzheimer’s may have trouble remembering to take medications on time, and their general safety can also be a concern. The great news is that modern technology can help make all kinds of tasks easier for our aging loved ones. There are apps that remind them when to take medications and monitoring systems that help you ensure your loved one doesn’t wander off.
Many municipalities are also starting programs that use an automated calling system to check on seniors daily. These systems prompt the person to press a button if they receive the message. If the person doesn’t respond, an officer is usually sent to check on them, and you can be reached as their emergency contact.
This type of program doesn’t replace your contact with them, but it can provide an added sense of security.
Check on their mental well being
When it comes to basic needs, your loved one’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. If your loved one lives alone, they may not have much social interaction, leading to a sense of isolation and often depression.
Maintain regular contact with them through video chat, which is a great way to make that communication more personal. Your loved one still needs other social interaction, and you can play an important role in helping them get it by researching and connecting them to resources where they live.
More and more seniors are also struggling with addiction, especially because of the prevalence of chronic pain as we age. With relatively few good options for treating chronic pain, older adults are often given prescription opiates.
If your loved one has been in this situation and is working on addiction treatment, they may have an even harder time with social isolation due to the negative impact substance abuse often has on relationships. Through your relationship with your loved one, you can encourage them to reach out to support systems, work to rebuild past relationships, and make healthy choices.
Throughout the process of caring for your loved one, keep in mind that needs change over time, so constant communication and willingness to adapt are important.
When you factor in the physical limitations and illness that go along with aging, caring for your loved one from far away certainly isn’t easy, but by following these steps, you can have peace of mind that they’re getting the best care possible.
In addition to ensuring your loved ones are cared for with the right forms, starting estate planning early can also help avoid probate for their estate and give everyone peace of mind. Not sure where to start? At Trust & Will, we’re here to help you keep things simple.
You can create a fully customizable, state-specific Estate Plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!
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