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Legal-Ease: Appropriate roles when caring for aging parents

We can struggle to define our roles when our parents, who typically helped us, need us to help them instead.

From a sense of moral obligation or pure love, if we are blessed to have aging parents, we may struggle to know how much or how little care and what kind of care to provide to our parents as they age. Legal aid, financial aid and physical aid all have unique considerations.

Legally, we can encourage our parents to get or update financial and healthcare powers of attorney, wills and trusts. But especially in this context, parents are in charge.

Further challenging adult children’s ability to help in this situation is the fact that attorney ethics rules do not allow attorneys to proactively contact people who have not already contacted the attorney unless those people are existing clients.

For example, an adult child may ask some questions on behalf of a parent. And an adult child can bring a parent to a meeting with a lawyer. However, an adult child cannot have an attorney contact a parent to recommend that the parent meet with the attorney for legal work. The parent must be the person to initiate that communication.

Financially, parents seem to need help, but many parents have sufficient resources to survive financially if those resources are properly managed. Almost all people age 65 and older are on Medicare. If a parent is particularly impoverished, outside of Medicare, a parent may be eligible for Medicaid.

Most people have paid into Social Security or have retirement accounts to live on in retirement. And if a parent is not yet retired but cannot work, the parent may qualify for disability.

Nevertheless, if parents need financial help, it is appropriate to provide it to them. The important consideration in this context is to ensure that the financial resources provided to a parent do not jeopardize the financial solvency of yourself, your spouse or your children.

Physically, parents may be more open to help because help is usually literally prescribed by a medical professional.

No one wants to spend money on home care to help a parent bathe and dress and then help with other aspects of physical care such as cooking and light cleaning. However, even if an adult child is a doctor or nurse, there is a big difference between caring for someone else as part of a job versus caring for a parent. Ultimately, many people overdo it in the physical assistance aspect of caring for a parent.

Excessive time and energy spent assisting with parents’ physical care, including but not limited to bathing and household chores, can and often does cause excessive marital and work stress for adult children.

In short, be gentle and respectful when encouraging parents to legally help themselves. Assistance to help parents use their existing financial resources most effectively, and be careful when providing financial support yourself. Be extra careful to avoid overdoing it when it comes to physical care of parents.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agricultural matters in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be obtained from the licensed attorney of your choice based on the specific facts and circumstances you face.

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