Moving an Aging Parent from Long-Distance – Part XV


by Joy Loverde

So here we are, right in the middle of a house-sale transaction and one of the signers of the legal documents (Bill) has taken ill to the point where he is not capable right now of signing.

I’m not too worried about that because long ago, I had a conversation with Mom and Bill about getting their legal house in order, and they assured me that everything was in order – durable power of attorney for healthcare, durable power of attorney for finances, a will, and letters of instruction upon death. I was shown where the papers are kept (a fireproof safe in the closet), and for years had peace of mind that the paperwork was complete. Boy was I wrong.

My big mistake was not asking them to show me the actual original copies of the legal documents. I was not interested in reading them for the content but more importantly to bear witness of their existence. And my shortcomings have now come back to haunt me.

Bill’s incapacity means he can’t sign the house-sale documents. No problem as long as Mom can produce an ORIGINAL copy of the power-of-attorney that authorizes her to sign for Bill in his behalf. When Mom is asked to produce the document, she opens up the safe and lo and behold – every original copy of the legal documents is there except the very one that is needed right now to close the house sale deal which is Bill’s power of attorney.  Why it’s missing is a mystery to Mom. We can’t ask Bill where it is because at the moment is incapacitated to the point that he is unable to communicate. Mom and Bill’s house sale process has now come to a screeching halt. What a mess we now have on our hands.

The lesson here is this... make sure power of attorney documents have been established per home owner at the very beginning stages of the sale of the property. Should one of the home owners become incapacitated, the power of attorney can sign in his or her behalf. Producing the ORIGINAL copy of the power of attorney will avert guardian court proceedings in the event of incapacity.

We don’t know anything about the missing paperwork when Sharon picks up Mom at the airport and drives her to the hospital to see Bill. Everyone assumes the paperwork is in order and the immediate course of action to take right now is to tend to Bill. Mom’s already long and exhausting travel day ends at 1 a.m. when Sharon drops her off at the empty house. Lonely and scared, Mom calls me one last time before she falls asleep. I’m feeling overwhelmingly helpless right now, and I will be getting on the phone with the hospital discharge planner first thing in the morning. It’s never too early to begin the process of planning for a patient’s exit strategy. Where will Bill live now that Mom can no longer care for him?