Taking Stock During the Holidays

Family Dinner For many of my clients, Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year.  The kids fly or drive in for dinner or a more extended stay.  A child living in the area has often assumed the meal management duties.  The definition of success is whether everyone is full.

Because Thanksgiving is such a great time for families, it is also a good time for everyone to take stock.  For the children, it is a good time to take a close look at how mom and/or dad are doing.  How do they look?  How does the house look?  Are things still well-organized, or at least as organized as they were last year?  Do your parents seem happy, or are they more depressed, anxious, or argumentative than usual?  If you do sense a change, Thanksgiving may be a good time to talk a little about it, both with your parents and with your siblings.

While it may seem that your parents are alone, there are actually a number of great advocates and programs in the community to help them stay healthy and stay home, even if their health is deteriorating.  People from the local Council on Aging regularly get calls from concerned children living far away.  They will often refer the children to the area Aging Services Access Point (ASAP), the entity that coordinates the various state and federal programs here in Massachusetts designed to help your parents stay at home.

You may also want to talk to your parents about whether they have talked to an elder law attorney about making sure their assets are structured so that they can take maximum advantage of these programs.

For parents, Thanksgiving may be the best time to talk to your kids about your contingency plans if something goes wrong over the next year.  After all, while there are some great things about being retired, there are issues that come with aging.  Among other things, the older we get, the greater the chances are of having a medical emergency, a serious fall, a minor heart problem, or a surprise trip to the hospital.  Who makes the medical decisions when those emergencies arise?  You do, of course, as long as you are competent.  Otherwise, unless you have executed a Health Care Proxy in advance, no one, not even your spouse, can make those decisions for you.  A judge will need to appoint a guardian to make those medical decisions, after hearings, legal fees, and time spent in court.

Whom should you name in your Health Care Proxy to make these decisions?  Most people assume their spouse would be best, but as you both get older, in some circumstances it may not be feasible to name your spouse.  If that is the case, the best person to make these decisions may be one of your children.  But which one?  Often parents feel that the one living nearest is the best choice.  But how will that child act under pressure?  Suppose you have decided that you do not want invasive measures like CPR and intubation if you have a heart attack.  By law, the person named in the Health Care Proxy makes these decisions for you, as long as they are acting in your best interests.  Also by law, only one person at a time can be named as your health care agent, so you cannot name all of your children to act together.

Chances are, the best people to name in your Health Care Proxy, and the most important people to tell about how you want to be treated in a medical emergency, will be sitting around the table with you at Thanksgiving.  Talk to them about it, maybe not at dinner, but some time later, when the younger grandchildren are not around.

Over the past month, I have interviewed a geriatric care doctor (Dr. Michelle Ricard), two Geriatric Care Managers (Deb Gitner and Linda Sullivan), and the owner of Patriot Ambulance, a large ambulance company, about how medical professionals respond during emergencies, about the paramount role of people named in Health Care Proxies, and about the importance of DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and MOLST (Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) forms.  You can find all these interviews and more on my YouTube channel:  http://www.youtube.com/elderlawfrankandmary .Duck

About Arthur Bergeron

Art has been practicing law in Massachusetts for over 30 years. He focuses his practice on elder law, estate planning, probate and trust administration, and land use matters. Art counsels senior citizens and their loved ones regarding elder law and special needs planning, asset protection and Medicaid planning. He works with individuals in all areas of estate planning, including wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney, health care proxies and living wills.
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