When Roles Reverse and Your Parents Need Your Help

Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys

Thanks to advances in medicine and science, as well as an overall better

quality of life, Americans at the beginning of the 21st century have an

average life expectancy of almost double what they had at the beginning of

the previous century. Despite this, the natural aging process has not

changed significantly during the last 100 years. We are simply better able

to prolong the inevitable. As a result, it often comes as somewhat of a

shock when we realize our parents are getting old – and that they won’t live

forever after all. Even more difficult to accept is that the parent who once

took care of you now needs your help.

As time marches on, it might become harder and harder for your parents to

keep up. It may happen slowly, or in the blink of an eye, but eventually you

will see signs that your parents’ physical and mental health is deteriorating.

Like any caring child, you may try to pitch in and help for a while.

Eventually, the time may come when your parents require more assistance

than you can provide. At that point it is time to consider options such as in-

home care or a long-term care facility. Making the decision to take the next

step is never easy. The decision will be much easier to make and

implement, however, if your parents have planned ahead for that possibility.

The key, therefore, is to have a comprehensive estate plan in place that

addresses issues specific to their post-retirement years.

You might be asking what you can do now. Encourage your parents to

meet with an experienced estate planning attorney in their area. A well-

thought-out estate plan can anticipate the issues that go along with the

certainty of aging and the possibility of incapacity, by incorporating tools

and strategies such as:

• Revocable Living Trust – allows a parent to act as trustee while

appointing you as the successor trustee. Should incapacity strike at

any time, the successor trustee (perhaps you) will take over as

trustee of the trust, thereby gaining control over all trust assets

without the need to petition a court.

• Advanced Directives – although these vary somewhat from state to

state, most states offer an Advanced Directive that allows an

individual to make end-of-life decisions in advance. Advanced

Directives also allow for the appointment of an “Agent” (you) who will

make healthcare decisions for the “Principal” (your parent) should the

“Principal” be unable to make such decisions at some point in the


• “HIPAA” Authorization Form – a Health Insurance Portability and

Accountability Act, or HIPAA, form allows your parent to grant you

(and/or others) access to their protected healthcare information. This

could be a critical need should you find yourself in a position where

you need to make financial or healthcare decisions for a parent in the


• Medicaid Planning – this component of a properly drafted estate

plan anticipates the future need for the creator of the plan to qualify

for Medicaid in order to cover the high cost of long-term care.

Medicaid planning protects estate assets while ensuring eligibility for

much needed benefits when the time comes.

Knowing you have a plan in place will provide both you and your parents

with invaluable peace of mind, particularly if you decide a nursing home is

the best option. Having a plan in place that addresses the legal and

financial aspects of transitioning to another level of care, allows you and

your parents to concentrate on selecting the right facility if necessary.

Choosing a long-term care facility is a highly personal decision; however,

you may wish to take into account some common factors such as: the

facility’s ratings, the ratio of staff to residents, and geographic proximity to

family members. To assist you in your decision making process, the

Medicare website offers a “Nursing Home Compare” tool that allows you to

compare nursing homes using all three of these factors.

Take the time now to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney

so you and your parents will be prepared, whatever the future holds.

Portia Wood