Role Reversal

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For Kat'e articleAs our parents age, many of us find ourselves in the difficult position of parenting our parents, and the challenge is to do so while always respecting their dignity, remaining sensitive to their abilities and understanding their need for control. This fragile balance can shift suddenly with changes in their health, mobility or capacity. Are you prepared for what’s next?

My dad did the driving for errands and appointments. Recently he had a hip replacement—so no more driving.

Mom is comfortable with driving short distances, but faced with a series of outings for a variety of doctors’ appointments or errands farther away from home, she is no longer comfortable. This prompted a game-changing situation for the family and caused us to have one of those “family meetings.”

I’m so grateful that my parents had the courage to open up about their changing circumstances and discuss the types of provisions and care they need to allow them to continue enjoying their preferred lifestyle living at home. Finding a short-term solution for their driving needs was relatively easy, and it brought to mind the need to prepare now for any future intervention in their continuing care.

Looking into it, the first thing that needed updating was my parents’ Power of Attorney (POA), created before the 1995 change in the Ontario Legislation which described three kinds of POAs:

  1. A Continuing Power of Attorney for Property (CPOA) allows the appointee to manage properties and financial affairs on behalf of the individual.
  2. A non-continuing Power of Attorney for Property provides for an individual to appoint another to manage their financial transactions if they are away for an extended period of time.
  3. A Power of Attorney for Personal Care (POAPC) covers the specifics of personal care including housing, medical treatment and intervention.

The CPOA and POAPC documents give someone else the legal right to act on their behalf and make decisions when they no longer have the capacity. This is certainly the stage to ensure that someone other than one of your parents is appointed to act as POA for the other parent. Life is unpredictable at best, and you don’t want to wrangle with this in front of a judge if they both become incapacitated!

It’s also imperative to have a will and POA properly drafted and witnessed. These important documents are best prepared by a lawyer who specializes in wills and estate planning.

The harder part of the discussion with my parents was the review of the preplanned and prepaid funeral arrangements they set up a number of years ago. It’s a tricky subject to bring up when parents are very much compos mentis. However, this review allowed all of us to understand exactly how they wanted their life celebrated in the end—and I thank them for this.

A year or so ago, I had one of the best visits ever with my parents. We spent time “going through the drawer,” which was a file drawer containing several documents (investment, insurance, banking and legal). We were able to get through most of the files that afternoon, and it was a relief to know what they had, where it was, what they wanted done, and what benefits would continue for the surviving spouse. We identified some gaps and overlaps, and we were able to do the necessary steps to consolidate banking and investments, and to cancel redundant credit and affinity cards. It was particularly important to double-check the beneficiary designation on these various documents; otherwise these funds would be paid out to the estate with expensive income tax implications.

As my generation finds ourselves sandwiched between getting their own adult children fully independent and out the door and finally having the home and time for themselves again, we must remember that our dear ol’ parents need care too. So a few tips will help you keep the optimism in your heart and the spring in your step!

Preplanning Tips If you’re finding yourself moving into the role of assisting your parents, there are a few important items that can be organized ahead of time:

  • A valid, current will covering the distribution of property;
  • Continuing Power of Attorney for Property and Power of Attorney for Personal Care;
  • A living will or advance directive, separate from or as part of your Power of Attorney;
  • Beneficiary designation on financial documents;
  • Simplified banking and investments to reduce future tax implications;
  • Identification of items for pre-gifting so family and close friends can enjoy them in your lifetime; and
  • Prearranged and prepaid funeral arrangements.

With a bit of family dialogue, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have organized things to the best of your ability, and you will be less likely to spend time worrying about the would-haves, should-haves or could-haves. So my mantra has become “act now”!

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift—that’s why it’s called the present!”

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About Kat Downey

Kat Downey is a licensed funeral director, speaker, workshop leader and facilitator of legacy planning. Learn more at legacymatters.ca.

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