Years ago, dad and mom went to a local lawyer, Wayland Sermons, in Washington, and had wills drawn up. Dad gave me a copy to keep and I filed it away. Several years later they had a power of attorney document drawn up for both of them. Basically it said, if something happened to mom, dad took over and if something happened to mom, dad took over. Very basic and pretty normal for that era.
When we first noticed that dad was having a problem, I knew enough to know that I wanted their legal documents reviewed to make sure that we were covered in the event that dad got worse, which we knew that he would. The thing about POAs is that you can not get them after someone has lost their capacity to make a decision. So it is very important to get everything in order before you need it. Dad was a little perplexed as to why we wanted to meet with a lawyer as he thought that everything was fine. Of course, by then Wayland Sermons was no longer available and we went to a family friend. The main purpose that I wanted to accomplish was to get my name on the POA as a contingent so that I could take over some of the duties and decisions that mom no longer wanted to deal with. So the lawyer went over their wills and their POAs and revised the POAs to read that I was the back up for both. He also advised and implemented the living will and healthcare POA for both of them. At that time, the durable POA had to be recorded with the registrar of deeds or it was not valid. So, we had it recorded.
That 30 minutes and a couple of phone calls was the best time that we spent in preparing for what was to come. I understand that particularly with the generation of our parents, that it is often hard to have these discussions and they certainly don’t want to have to rely on anyone to take care of them in the future. If it had not been of the Alzheimer’s, mom and dad would still be living on their own on the farm. There would be challenges, but they would not be any worse off than hundreds of elderly before them that took care of themselves with a little help. I am very grateful that dad complied and did not fight my help. The last two years, as difficult as they have been, have been much easier with all of the paperwork in place.
Recently, it dawned on me that mom and dad are completely dependent upon me for everything now. What if something happened to me? I asked the lawyer, that we retained last year, how hard would it be for my sister or brother to take over the finances and jump in and take control of things for mom and dad (which they both would do in a minute). The lawyer said that it would have to go to court to have them appointed guardians for mom and dad. So, I am still learning things as I go along. With that presenting itself as a challenge in the future, we revised mom’s POAs to reflect a contingency plan that included my brother and sister. We can not revise dad’s because his mental capacity is such that he is unable to make decisions for himself. Now I feel that we have strengthened our plan for care of mom and dad.
My husband and I also put all of this into affect for ourselves. We had the lawyer draw up all of our POAs and they all include contingencies. My son thinks this is morbid to think about or discuss, but I will be realistic and prepare things as best that I can for my children. The best decision that my brother, sister and myself made last year was to retain an elder lawyer to help us navigate through everything with mom and dad and to get a little help for ourselves also. I am very grateful for the support, advice and tangible results that the lawyer has offered us. Things change and sometimes you need a little help.