Caring for Elderly Parents

As advances in medical treatments continue apace, expected lifespans are increasing too. Sadly, for many, this means living with chronic illness for longer and an increased chance of cognitive impairment. This can put a strain on the family unit as children turn into carers.

It can therefore be vital that professional advice is sought to ensure that one’s parents’ welfare and finances are being properly managed and to take steps to ensure that should they become unable to deal with these matters independently, the children can step into their shoes. It is strongly recommended to discuss these topics with parents and ideally, with a solicitor and financial planner, long before any signs of mental frailty are evident.

Being involved with the management of one’s parents’ affairs, alongside a financial planner, can save substantial sums in Inheritance Tax if appropriate planning is put in place. It can also mitigate the payment of long-term care costs, if they are needed.

Subject to parental agreement, the children should have drawn up Lasting Powers of Attorney. These will only be effective if the parent has “capacity” at the time, i.e. the ability and understanding to make this decision.

A lasting power of attorney (LPA) is a legal document whereby the parent (the donor) appoints one or more people (known as ‘attorneys’) to stand in their stead and make decisions on their behalf, should they lose mental capacity – no matter how transient that episode may be.

There are 2 types of LPA:
• health and welfare – this covers their daily routine, medical care decisions, moving into a care home, life-sustaining treatment, etc.
• property and financial affairs – this includes managing their bank accounts, paying bills, collecting pensions, selling the home and the ongoing management of any investments either by them    directly or their appointed financial adviser, etc.

One can choose to make one type or both. A solicitor will provide the appropriate professional guidance and advice, particularly in regard to who might be appointed as an attorney. This is not something to be taken lightly and needs careful consideration.

When parents become unwell and care is needed which cannot be met by children, there are a number of organisations that offer free help and advice. The parent’s GP is often a good resource, particularly as they should be familiar with the patient and the medical history, diagnosis and prognosis. Experienced professionals can be engaged to meet with parents and children to discuss the best course of action, thus helping to ensure that a parent remains safe and well.

In some instances, “care at home” may only be a temporary measure and the long-term solution is a move into a care home. This is a major decision. It is highly recommended that the children obtain support and guidance from specialist organisations, of which, thankfully, there are many; Age Concern, the Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK to name but three. Private care homes are expensive, typically upwards of £1,000 per week in Greater London and if dementia care is required, considerably more.

Planning for and discussing such eventualities when one’s parents are fit and well may seem rather morose and it is understandable to put off these conversations for another day, however avoiding these subjects can be costly, frustrating and distressing in the future. Without timely action, decisions about a loved-one’s welfare can be taken out of one’s hands and the day-to-day dealing with finances and investments is entirely curtailed, without recourse to the courts. This can prove very costly indeed.