Learn about the important legal documents you'll need for your parents before they enter assisted living and how to plan for their end-of-life wishes.
As your parents grow older, it’s important to make sure you will be able to manage their affairs if they become unable to make medical or financial decisions on their own. It’s also critical to ensure you have the legal documents needed to make sure their end-of-life wishes are carried out. These documents can be complex, and many states have specific requirements that must be met for the documents to be valid. It is always best to consult with and retain an elder law or estate planning attorney to assist your parents with preparing and executing these documents.
We’ve put together a list of essential legal documents every aging adult should have. If your mom or dad doesn’t already have them in place, it's a good idea to plan a conversation to discuss these important documents.
Before your parent moves into an assisted living community, part of the admissions process will involve preparing specific legal documents. Make sure you have this paperwork in place before they make their move.
The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, often simply known as HIPAA, lays out legal standards for ensuring an individual’s health records and information are kept private. This means that healthcare professionals can’t share information with you about your parent unless your parent has provided written consent for you to receive this information. A HIPPA authorization form is a straightforward yet critical document for parents to complete. This form authorizes doctors, medical facilities, and other healthcare professionals to keep you and other family members your parent approves informed on their medical status. Most doctor’s offices have them on hand, and they only take a few minutes to complete.
A durable financial power of attorney provides you or another appointed agent the authority to take care of financial transactions on your parent’s behalf. Keep in mind, your loved one has to be mentally competent when the document is created. A durable power of attorney differs from a standard power of attorney in that it will remain effective even if your parent becomes incapacitated and is unable to make decisions for themselves. When your parent passes away, this document is automatically terminated.
A durable medical power of attorney names at least one person to make medical decisions on your parent’s behalf if they’re unable to communicate or make decisions on their own. It’s wise to name an alternate agent in case the primary agent cannot be reached when there’s an emergency. Take time to discuss your parents’ wishes on critical medical decisions in advance so you are able to carry out their wishes if they become too ill to direct their own medical care.
Before your aging parents enter an assisted living community, their doctor will be required to complete a physical assessment form. It provides information about your parent’s medical history, current diagnoses, behavioral or cognitive status, and sensory or physical limitations they may have. Within the assessment, the physician can also indicate what therapy or medical services are needed by your loved one, as well as information on the amount of assistance that may be necessary with self-care and daily living tasks.
A few specific legal documents are needed to dictate your loved one’s end-of-life wishes as well as what happens to their estate when they are gone.
A living will, often called an advanced directive, allows your parent to record their wishes for end-of-life care. It keeps family members from having to agonize over tough medical decisions in the future. Your parent can use a living will to make it clear whether they would like life support to be used in the case of a permanent coma, persistent vegetative state, or terminal condition. It can also be used to specify in which situations they would like to receive water and food via feeding tube, and when they’d like to be provided with comfort care.
A last will and testament states what happens to your loved one’s assets after they pass away. It can include their property, money, estate, and possessions. Failing to have a will means that your loved one’s estate will pass pursuant to state intestacy laws regardless of their wishes. . When creating a last will, they’ll need to list beneficiaries and appoint an executor and alternate executor. By drafting a last will and testament, parents ensure their estate is distributed according to their own wishes.
A Do Not Resuscitate or DNR document informs medical professionals that your parent does not want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or advanced cardiac life support if their heart stops or they stop breathing. A DNR differs from a living will in that it’s a medical order actually written and signed by a physician, making it a legally recognized medical order. In some states, the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) serves the same function as a DNR form.
You should have several other important healthcare, financial, and personal documents on hand as well, including your parent’s:
Arthur Bretschneider is CEO and Co-Founder of Seniorly. As a third generation leader in the senior living industry, Arthur brings both deep compassion and a wealth of practical experience to his work at Seniorly. Arthur holds an MBA from Haas School of Business and has been featured in the New York Times and Forbes Magazine as a thought leader in the senior living space. Arthur is a passionate and vocal advocate for improving the lives of older adults through community, and believes strongly that structured senior living environments can positively impact the aging experience.
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