Finances can be a difficult topic to discuss in some settings, and talking with aging parents qualifies as one of those. But it’s essential that families discuss finances and how they will be handled when — not if, but when — one of them becomes incapacitated physically or mentally. Wise people appoint a trusted person as power of attorney (POA) before there is a health crisis.
In the case of caregiver Marianne Sciucco, author of Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s Love Story, the legal documents for her parents were signed in time — barely. Here Marianne tells us about the blessing of thinking ahead. “We met with my parents’ lawyer and drafted a power of attorney (POA) for Mom and my stepfather in the nick of time. Just a year later, following a dementia diagnosis, I was forced to put his into action.
“The POA is a powerful document. It allowed me to open and close bank accounts in my stepfather’s name, transfer ownership and change beneficiaries on his life insurance policies, cash out his IRAs, sell his property, and more. Throughout the whole process, I felt guilty for stripping him of everything he’d worked for throughout his life, though the fact that I was preserving these assets for my mother’s protection, comfort, and care, helped minimize my guilt. Otherwise, my stepfather’s admission to a locked memory care unit would have wiped them out financially.
“The POA was very useful but it did not necessarily make things easy, or quick.
“I successfully applied for Medicaid on his behalf, which took many months of phone calls, photocopying, and frustration. Having the POA eased the way, but I ran into many roadblocks in my quest to obtain all of his financial information. For example, reaching the proper person to expedite a request often took weeks of leaving phone messages, missing the call back, and starting over again with the phone tree. I talked to dozens of people and faxed and mailed copies of the POA, and other required paperwork, before receiving the documents I needed.
“Obtaining information on my stepfather’s Social Security status required a visit to the local office, which I had to make twice in order to become his representative, allowing me access to that information. The POA wasn’t enough — I had to complete an application and submit to a personal interview so that I could become a representative payee. Thankfully, I had the foresight to bring my mother with me and became her representative at the same time.
“It also took months to cash out my stepfather’s IRAs because the people I spoke to on three different calls insisted he had to complete a new POA on their forms, and would not understand that this was impossible given his condition. I finally reached out to my own financial planner who researched and found the proper person for me to deal with. This settled the matter weeks later. “The irony is that I was under a deadline with Medicaid to obtain these documents, and the process dragged on for months. I started in April and finished in October. Many afternoons were dedicated to this task. I took extensive notes. It made me crazy. I hired a lawyer to handle my mother’s Medicaid application. I can’t go through that again.”
__Marianne’s story should open the eyes of aging parents and their adult children everywhere. While it’s possible to download and complete POA forms from the internet for a small fee, it’s far more advisable to have the papers drawn up by an estate attorney or an elder attorney who knows your state laws. This is especially important when it comes to Medicaid, which is state run so laws can vary from state to state. __
You can find a local estate attorney or elder law attorney in your phone book or online, but you also may want to check the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys online (NAELA) because the site lets you search by zip code. However you go about it, don’t put off this important work. Once it’s done, you can get back to your own life, but you and your parents should be able to live with added peace of mind.
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Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.