By Kaye Swain
My senior mom lives with me. I have help but I am, indeed, the one in charge of her affairs. My elderly mom is still quite active but she no longer drives, and she has me help quite a bit with checks, budgets, etc. I take her to the doctor's, stay with her when she has to have an operation, and am generally the all around go-to person for her care.
Last week, a young woman lost control of her vehicle and hit my car. Thankfully, she was going slow, we saw it coming, and I was able to swerve a bit out of the way. The end result was that all of us walked away just fine from the accident, although my poor car will be recuperating for a while in a repair shop. What could have been awful turned out to be just a major inconvenience and I am so grateful to God for that!
What if things had gone differently? What if I had died or been seriously injured? My family would all jump in and help but I have to admit, the paperwork could be a bit neater! I am good about always putting all of my family's names on the medical charts we fill out. That way, if my mom was in the hospital and I wasn't available, the medical staff could talk to other family members. But there are definitely some areas I need to address and you might want to think about these issues as well. Then, if something does happen, we will have a lot less stress to go along with it.
- HIPAA Forms - These confidentiality forms need to be filled out appropriately if you want to be able to discuss your senior parents' medical needs with their care providers. Make sure you also have plenty of other family members' names on them to cover a wide range of emergencies. It's not uncommon for multigenerational families like mine in the same area to travel together. It's wise to include friends and relatives who do NOT live nearby as well, just in case.
- Will or Trust - Have the original and a copy easily available. If a trust, have at least one or two other trustees designated in case something happens to you. The more people listed, the less you have to be concerned if more than one of you are incapacitated. And sadly, that can happen. How many multiple car crashes have we read about in bad weather? For that matter, in one year, our family experienced two deaths and three major hospitalizations - all for different members of the family and two of the hospitalizations were within a couple of weeks of each other!
- Power of Attorney - Have the original and several copies (for banks, doctors, etc.) available. Like the trust, this should also have at least two or three names designated on it, complete with regularly updated addresses and phone numbers. Be sure to review it at least once a year to see what, if any, changes and updates are required.
- Living Will for medical decisions - Just as with the Power of Attorney, it would be good to have two or three names on it, if that is allowed. Again, make sure the document is reviewed annually.
- When traveling out of the area, keep a photocopy of the essential documents from the power of attorney and the living will in your purse or briefcase. If something happened to your senior parent while you were gone, you could fax the needed forms to the medical personnel requesting them. (You may be thinking that isn't necessary since your doctor and hospital already have copies of all these documents. I've learned the hard way that, even when they have been scanned into the computers and EVERYONE says we're covered - we haven't been! Twice in the last year, first with my senior mom and later with a grandchild, we discovered that various hospital and medical departments that SHOULD have had access to those forms did NOT. So now, I make sure I have copies with me at all times.)
- Phone Numbers - Make sure you print out a list of all important phone numbers - medical offices, pharmacy office and prescription numbers, relatives and friends who would need to be notified in an emergency, etc. So many of us depend on our cell phones but if yours is password protected like my iPhone, others might not be able to access that vital information. In addition to the phone numbers, you might want to add the password information for the cell phone. OR if you want to be more confidential, have the password information available for the person who will be taking over for you (the next trustee on the trust, etc.) in the safe deposit box or somewhere else secure enough for your comfort but accessible by the party who would need it. Even with that provision though, you should still have a hard copy in secure files in case your phone is damaged or lost.
- Financial records - Keep them all together. Go through and add notes to help others understand what is going on in case you aren't there to explain everything. As with the phone numbers, have a master list of computer and website logon information and passwords for any online accounts that would be needed but make sure they are kept in a safe place.
Well, this is a good start. I'm going to be reviewing my documents over the next few months to help ensure that caring for my elderly parents will continue fairly easily, even if I am temporarily or permanently unable to do it myself. How about you?
Kaye Swain is a member of the Sandwich Generation dealing with the issues of caring for the elderly parents and relatives in her family while also babysitting grandchildren. She enjoys writing on those topics at SandwichINK, in order to provide other multigenerational caregivers with useful information, resources and encouragement.