As they age, parents often lean on their children for help and advice, and family roles begin to shift. Navigating these changing dynamics can be even harder when your parent lives far away. One would think that since Social Security, Medicare, and other government benefits for seniors are federally funded, legal issues would be uniform across all 50 states. However, that is simply not the case. The maze of government benefits and regulations that affect seniors differ from State to State. The legal rules regarding Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Advance Directives are all State-specific, and Medicaid is State-managed, so the rules governing eligibility differ. So, how do you help your loved ones from afar?
Proper Legal Documents. Everyone should have the following documents in place: (1) Will; (2) Durable Power of Attorney (for financial and legal matters); (3) Medical Power of Attorney; (4) HIPAA Release and Authorization (access to medical records and doctors); (5) Directive to Physicians (Living Will); and (6) Declaration of Guardian. It may be tempting to download these forms from a website, but there is no guarantee such documents will hold up legally, even when “customized” for your State. Seek out independent legal advice from an attorney who focuses on elder law in the community where your parent lives to ensure the advice they receive will be current, accurate, and tailored to your parent’s specific situation. A good place to start your search for a credible elder law attorney is the website for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, www.naela.org.
Support Network. When you are in town, spend time getting to know your parent’s friends, neighbors, and doctors. Make sure your parent has someone trustworthy close by, and that everyone has your contact information. And, make sure the doctors have you listed as a person who can access medical records and talk to doctors. This is best achieved through a HIPAA Release and Authorization.
Online Access to Accounts. If your parent has listed you as an agent on the Durable Power of Attorney and would like your assistance with finances, help set up online access to financial accounts. Even if your parent doesn’t use online access, you can use it to monitor accounts and make sure there is no unusual activity.
Maintain Open Communication. There is no substitute for regular, open communication, even if done from a distance. Take the time to be involved and continue cultivating your relationship with your parents. You will all be glad you did.
Lori Leu, Erin Peirce, Lauren Olson, and Laura Chavero are Elder Law attorneys with Leu & Peirce, PLLC in Plano, Texas. They can be reached at 972-996-2540.