I received a reader email a few weeks back asking me to write about aging seniors who have no family or friends to rely on. I wrote about this topic last January (see blog posts 1-2-17 and 1-9-17) but we are seeing the scenario with increasing frequency, so it is certainly worthwhile to address it again.
Last year I focused on the crisis case in which our hypothetical senior, Jane Doe was admitted to the hospital with no power of attorney or health care directive in place. It is not uncommon for Jane to be under a mental impairment at that point. Executing a power of attorney and health care directive at that time, while critical, is also problematic. Yet, that is when we usually cross paths with Jane Doe. Medical professionals will call our office seeking guidance and assistance.
But, as I repeat often, the options are so much better when you plan ahead. Not that it is easy. Many people who live alone with few family and friends in their inner circle are fiercely independent and have been for years. Yet, the inevitability of aging hits us all if we live long enough. The best time to put a plan in place is when you still have the ability to monitor that plan to see if it will work.
So what are the options? Most decisions – at least the important ones that can have life altering consequences – can be divided into two categories. The first category would be financial management and decisions. The second is health care. If Jane Doe can’t care for herself, she’ll need help paying her bills and managing her money. Jane will also need someone to talk to her doctors and make medical decisions.
As long as Jane is competent to do so, she can execute a financial power of attorney designating an agent to make decisions for her. She can also sign a health care power of attorney allowing a health care representative to talk to her doctors and make medical decisions when necessary. The execution of these documents is relatively easy to accomplish. Of course, it doesn’t solve the problem of who Jane can or should designate.
We’ll try to answer that questions next week.