Options for caring for aging parents

Power of attorney for the aged.

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America's population continues to grow older. By the year 2030, the number of people over the age of 60 will have increased by more than 50 percent. As a result, many people now find themselves in the position of having to care for an aging parent at the same time they are trying to raise their children. Although in general there is no legal requirement that an adult child care for an elderly parent, many people feel at least a moral obligation to provide for those who brought them into the world and cared for them during their younger years.

While most older Americans continue to lead active and healthy lives, some inevitably fall victim to the illnesses and infirmities associated with growing old, such as Alzheimer's Disease, which take their toll on the ability of an elderly person to live independently.

If you're faced with the problem of helping an elderly parent manage his or her affairs, the law provides several avenues of assistance.

If your parent is having problems managing his or her financial matters, you may file a petition in state court asking it to establish a conservatorship for your parent's property, If your parent is also unable to manage his or her other affairs, you may petition for a guardianship, which gives the guardian full control over all the decisions surrounding a person's life.

Even if your parent consents to the naming of a guardian, a court hearing will still be required. If your parent disputes the establishment of a conservatorship or guardianship, he or she is entitled to be represented by an attorney, to present evidence, and to testify about his or her ability to continue living independently.

If the court decides a custodianship or guardianship is necessary, it will then appoint a person who it believes will act in the best interest of your parent. In some cases, that may be you, another family member, or some other person the court feels is qualified to do the job.

A guardian or conservator can be required to post a bond to ensure the court that he or she will act responsibly in managing the elderly person's property and personal affairs.

Because a guardianship deprives the ward of many important rights necessary for independent living, it should be used only in cases where it is absolutely necessary. An older person can arrange to have a friend or family member write checks and make sure that bills are paid on time by executing a power of attorney. A power of attorney is a document in which one person (called the principal) authorizes another person (called the attorney-in-fact) to act on his behalf.

This document allows one person to give another person the authority to act on his or her behalf in the management of personal affairs. With a durable power of attorney, the attorney-in-fact can pay bills, manage a business, conduct real estate transactions, or perform any function that the principal authorizes. A durable power of attorney will remain in effect even if the person who makes it later becomes incompetent or incapacitated.

Another option is a so-called "springing" power of attorney, which only becomes effective when a specified event takes place, such as the incapacity of the person who authorizes it. In any case, a power of attorney can only be created while the principal is legally competent. If your elderly parent is presently incapable of managing his or her affairs, it's already too late to have a power of attorney created.

Copyright 1999 ProSe Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

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