Helping Parents Take Control of End of Life Decisions

As you return to your childhood home this season, there may be more on your mind than just turkey and presents. You may be wondering how to approach the issue of your parents’ aging and whether they have taken the necessary legal steps to protect themselves physically, medically and financially.

It is often a topic fraught with tension due to a parent’s inherent need to remain in control and independent.  But, it is when your parents are still independent and in control that these end of life decisions should be made. You should be able to freely discuss and encourage your parents to execute a will, power of attorney and health care proxy.  The absence of these documents often causes “guess work” which can lead to intra-family fighting as each sibling believes that he or she knows the “true” wishes of the parent. Conflict of this nature can be avoided when seniors, while healthy, write a will which explains what they want to happen to their money and property. A health care proxy (or living will) will also explain any end of life wishes including advanced medical directives like “do not resituate, do not intubate and comfort measures only.” A durable power of attorney will explain who a senior wishes to handle their finances and how extensive or far reaching that authority may be.

By addressing these issues proactively and without the added pressures brought on by declining mental and physical health, you and your siblings can encourage your parents to create legal plan that best suits your parents’ needs.

One final thought, while you can encourage your parents to execute a will, durable power of attorney and a health care proxy, the contents of these documents remain the private property of your parents.  They may choose to share with you details or they may not—that is their choice.  The important thing is that these documents exist and expressly lay out your parents’ wishes for their financial, physical and legal affairs. We do encourage you to ask your parents where they plan to keep these documents whether it may be a locked safe deposit box or with the family attorney. By their very nature, these documents are needed during times of extreme crisis and stress.  No need to add to that stress by thinking: “I know he has a will or a durable power of attorney or a health care proxy, I just do not know where he keeps it.”