A hallmark of the holiday season is the opportunity to connect with family and loved ones from near and far, many of whom we may not have visited recently due to busy schedules or the miles between us. This extra time together presents an opportunity for evaluating elderly parents during the holidays, which may allow you to spot changes in an aging relative or parent’s condition that requires attention.
Many changes can be subtle, yet still cause concern. Even if your family gathering takes place elsewhere, make an effort to pop into your elder’s living space. What exactly should you keep an eye out for? Here’s a brief list of red flags:
- Poor personal appearance. Neglect of personal appearance, such as ripped or dirty clothes, or not keeping up with basic hygiene, such as bathing and tooth-brushing, can indicate dementia, depression or other physical impairments.
- Weight loss. Losing weight without trying can be related to many things, including difficulty buying groceries; malnutrition; difficulty cooking; loss of taste or smell or other underlying physical conditions.
- Personality changes. Consider what has been normal in the past and look for variations. A typically even-keeled person who starts having frequent meltdowns or a normally cheerful person who seems withdrawn and sad can be an early sign of dementia. Loss of interest in hobbies and activities or becoming socially isolated can also indicate a physical and mental decline.
- Cognitive changes. Everyone has a memory lapse now and then, but certain types of memory loss disrupt daily life and make it hard to function, such as the inability to follow instructions and answer simple questions, getting lost in familiar places and becoming confused about time, people and places.
- Condition of their home. If there is garbage piling up, an abundance of spoiled food or piles of dirty laundry, it could signify a change in the ability of your loved one to keep up their living environment, which in turn can create fall and fire hazards.
- Financial mismanagement. As people age and become more vulnerable, they can often unwittingly be the target of fraud. A decline in cognitive abilities may also result in a stack of unpaid or overdue bills.
- Disregard for healthcare needs. Is medication be taken as prescribed? Are they able to explain their medication schedule? Are doctor’s appointments being scheduled regularly and attended? As age progresses, keeping on top of medical conditions can fall to the wayside.
After evaluating elderly parents, if you do spot changes that indicate there could be a problem when, it’s important to address the situation as soon as possible. Don’t wait too long to get involved. Start by having a heart-to-heart talk with your loved one. Some won’t admit the need for help, while other don’t realize they need it. Make sure they understand your concerns and options for moving forward. Remind them that you care about them and want to ensure their well-being for years to come. Make basic, gradual changes at first, such as assistance with bill paying, and work your way up to more extensive changes, such as revocation of driving privileges. A top priority is to schedule a consult with a trusted elder law attorney to create a plan for quality of life and preserving and protecting assets, ideally before there is a crisis.
An elder law attorney can help you in evaluating elderly parents, and can suggest solutions to ensure a smooth transition to what lies ahead, working with you and your loved one to prepare documents that will enable you to step in and assist your parent as necessary. Some of the most important estate planning documents are:
- Durable financial power of attorney will legally empower you to handle financial transactions on behalf of your parent, such as paying bills, filing taxes and handling social security issues.
- Healthcare power of attorney and living will work in tandem to set forth medical preferences and also enables your parent to appoint agents to manage this care in the event that he or she is unable to personally do so. If these forms are not timely prepared prior to a mental decline, it may be necessary to petition the court to appoint a guardian to protect your parent’s interests, a process which can be lengthy and expensive.
An elder law attorney will also work with you and your parent to evaluate existing financial circumstances and suggest preparation methods, whether it be a will, a revocable trust or even irrevocable asset protection trusts. Having an estate plan in place avoids a stressful probate process and minimizes taxes and legal expenses.
An elder law attorney can also help your parent that is a wartime veteran or surviving spouse qualify for VA Aid and Attendance Pension, which can provide up to $27,000 per year in tax-free benefits to help them pay for in-home, assisted living, or nursing home care.
Facing the reality of a loved one’s mental or physical decline is never easy, but having open and honest discussions, being proactive, and working with an elder law attorney can make a big difference for your loved one’s future and your own peace of mind.
Golowin Legal often prepares estate plans for up to three generations of family members. Call us today at (614) 453-5208 to schedule a meeting to develop an estate plan for you or an aging parent. Visit the Golowin Legal estate planning page for more information.