Oct 06, 2010

What should I do to help my Dad now that he's getting older?

old dad.jpgDear Liza: My father is 80, and in failing health. I don't know what I should do to be able to take care of him if he gets sicker. You need to get your father to sign a Durable Power of Attorney for Property Management and an Advance Health Care Directive. Don't put this off. These documents make it possible for you to take care of your Dad if he can't take care of things himself. 
The Power of Attorney allows you to pay his bills, manage his accounts, and take care of his property (like paying his rent, hiring a gardener, or getting an apartment cleaned). The Advance Health Care Directive (in some states this is called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care) allows you to make medical decisions for him, like what kind of medical procedures, what hospital, or what end-of-life measures he does or doesn't want. If your Dad trusts you, it can be very helpful to have a joint checking account with him as well. A shared account makes it even easier to write checks for his benefit, but it's not always the best solution because it means you would have access to his money in that account. Don't wait until he's too sick to sign these documents or open this account because then you'll have to go to court and get an adult guardianship or conservator appointed--which is more expensive, more public, and more time-consuming. These documents are available online or at local senior centers and are drafted by estate planning attorneys as part of a comprehensive estate plan--which your Dad should also put in place, but let's get your immediate needs figured out first. For more information on powers of attorney and living wills, see Nolo's Estate Planning Center.