What Legal documents do I need to help my elder?

Helping your elderly parent or grandparent can the the most rewarding, frustrating, loving or aggravating experience you'll go through.  Often it's hard to get the Elder to realize they must give up control because they don't want to trust anyone else.   If dementia is becoming a problem they may have slight paranoia which makes it impossible for them to trust anyone even though they have family who only wants to help and would never take advantage of them.

The act of taking control is hard as well since we want to respect our parents.  And, let's say it out loud - it takes a lot of time and energy when you're already stressed out. With our own jobs, kids, debts and other obligations, it's very hard to take on the responsibility of another adult when they enter a period where things are complicated by medical conditions, insurance coverage and drug interactions as well as the emotional aspect of dealing with the decline of someone you love.  Often I find that I don't pay enough attention to my own affairs because I'm just too tired after wading through Mom's insurance or dealing with issues at the nursing home.

If you want to help your elder, then you'll need to have some documentation in place.   Given my experience, I'd recommend a living will or other statement that outlines the life-saving or palliative care; a Power of Attorney that enables a trusted person to act on behalf of the elder and a will or means to give away assets after death.   Be advised - you will NEVER get a word of advice from me on how to get someone else's money or assets if that is not their wish.   Our elders worked hard, saved and sacrificed, they deserve to have the best quality of life possible and their funds should be used for that purpose first, their funeral second and  then distributed according to their wishes.  If your elder asks for help or if you wish to understand how to best help someone then take them to an attorney or go by yourself.   A few hundred dollars to understand the legal possibilities and requirements will save your time, energy, frustration and feelings later.

Power of Attorney

Limited Power of Attorney
This document gives an individual(s) power to act on behave of another person.  Powers of Attorney may be limited in scope, duration and may be revoked by the grantor, provided they are of sound mind and body. 

A Limited power of attorney is one that grants specific powers for a limited time.  For example, if a guy in the military knows he’ll soon be deployed and he wants his new wife to mange some rental properties while he’s out of the country. He can give his wife power of attorney to manage affairs related ONLY to the management of the specific rental properties for a period lasting two years from the date he signs it.  He can further limit the things she may do such as sign rental agreements, schedule and pay for repairs .. BUT, he might also include that she is NOT empowered to sell, mortgage or otherwise use the property as collateral for any loan.  
Durable Power of Attorney
THE most powerful Power of Attorney – this gives another person complete and total power to do anything in your name.  This should be used ONLY when you have the absolute trust that another person will act in your best interest.  
Power of Attorney for Healthcare
This PoA gives another person authority to make medical decisions in the case that the grantor, or signer, is incapacitated.  It’s a good idea to provide the PoA with written instructions on the type of care you wish to have and when life support versus palliative care is your wish.   Palliative care might also be called “comfort care”, it means that a patient is kept comfortable but nothing would be done to prolong life.
Physician Order for Standard of Treatment or
Physicians Order for Scope of Treatment
Is a form that outlines what sort of treatment you wish to have depending on the situation.   This can replace a living will. Each state has an "official" approved form that is used across hospitals, doctors offices, nursing homes, hospices and hospitals, so ask your doctor or Area Agency on Aging for help finding a blank form.
A will
This is the standard legal document that is used to distribute  assets  - according to ones wishes  - after  death.  If someone dies with no will, then anything s/he had will be divided among your legal heirs.  Probate of your estate will be necessary to distribute your assets no matter how small.   By naming beneficiaries on all accounts (including checking and savings), investments, retirement savings – anything, you can get by without a will.  However, if you have a house, a car or any other property, it’s a good idea to add someone’s name as owner or beneficiary.
Life Estate
This is a legal instrument that may be used to give away property over time.  The idea is that the owner sign over their property but ownership will not transfer until their death.   In some states, like my Mom’s, ownership is transferred a little each month starting the month the document is signed.   However, the grantee can’t claim ownership, is not responsible for taxes, etc; cannot sell the property or use it as their own.   The life estate may be revoked but to be sure this is done properly, get an attorney involved.

Caution:  Always see an attorney in the state where the elder lives and where they own property to understand what is possible.   If they need Medicaid, a legal instrument like this might cause problems if it’s done within the look back period for a Medicaid application.     

The recipient of the life estate must also be cautious, since ownership of the property is not transferred until death.  It may not be possible to use it as an asset for loans or sell your ownership interest  because ownership has not been transferred until the death of the grantor. 

What is a living will?  what is a physicians order for scope of treatment? What is a life estate? should i do a life estate?   What is a durable power of attorney? when should I use a limited power of attorney? How can I get Mom's assets? How can I keep grandpa's mom's dad's assets from the state after they die? what happens if mom dies without a will?
What legal documents do I need to take are of grandma? What legal documents do i need to take care of grandma? what legal documents do i need to take care of mom's dad's business?