It is a fact of life that it becomes more and more difficult for individuals to manage their own affairs as they get older. For many people, taking on the role of a caregiver for an ageing loved one is a stark reality that changes the lives of all involved. But even if a loved one is able to maintain a certain degree of independence, live on their own and manage their own personal affairs, they might not be able to effectively manage their legal and financial affairs in a manner they are accustomed to.
When this occurs, there are options that need to be considered and discussed among the family members to prevent problems from occurring.
The first step is to assess the situation to determine the level of assistance an elderly individual requires to maintain their quality of life. Elderly individuals generally prefer to keep their independence as long as possible to maintain a sense of self worth. No individual wants to admit that they need help to just get through each day, so assessing the amount of assistance an elderly family member needs is a delicate step in the process. Ideally, this can be discussed in advance of the situation occurring so that all members of the family have a preset plan for dealing with the situation when it occurs.
Many individuals sign a power of attorney form with conditions attached that only allow for the power of attorney to spring when certain life situations occur, such as diagnosis of dementia or other such ailments. If you feel you may lose your right to control your life, you don’t need to worry as the durable power of attorney has no rights until the conditions that you have decided collectively have been met.
Most families hate to bring up financial matters with family members who have been predominantly providers. When that day comes and relatives feel that their elder is losing control of finances, a lot of dialogue amongst family members takes place before the subject is broached with the elder concerned.
It might be that a visiting relative has found reminder letters to pay telephone and electricity bills. The appointed relative will have to discreetly go through any financial records present in the elder’s home to find out if bills are being paid with the correct amount. The first step in determining whether a loved one needs assistance is to investigate their current situation.
Going through financial records such as checkbooks and bank statements will help to develop a general picture of the financial circumstances the individual is in. If mortgage, rent, or utility payments are made, are they always the same or are there differing amounts in the checkbook records? Are there unopened bills lying around the house or notices of lapses in payment? These are usually the first signs of elderly confusion or forgetfulness, and even though this is normal with old age, it can lead to financial trouble if left unattended.
As a caregiver, you should get involved early prior to any true financial damage occurring, but when that does not happen, often more dramatic steps are required to resolve issues that have developed. Many times, simply explaining concerns about possible credit collections or even foreclosure can be enough to persuade a loved one to allow you to help them.
Once you are in a position to assist with financial decisions, involving the loved one in the decision-making process also helps to comfort any apprehension they may have about losing their independence. This is important even if a durable power of attorney has been granted because it enables the individual to still see themselves as part of the process of resolving financial difficulties, which goes a long way toward maintaining a degree of dignity within the individual.
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