Since 1900, life expectancy for Australians has increased by over 30 years. The average life expectancy of a newborn girl used to be 51 years. Now it is 84 years. But how do we care for our elderly relatives once they begin to lose the ability to care for themselves?
Over the past 125 years there have been massive changes in our health and lifestyle. What Australians now die of, and the age at which they die, is very different to what it used to be. Up until 1932, infectious and parasitic diseases caused at least 10% of all deaths each year, with death rates from these diseases highest among the very young and very old. Improvements in living conditions, such as better water supplies, sewerage systems, food quality and health education, have led to overall lower death rates and longer life expectancy at all ages.
Infection control measures have improved in medical facilities, and public awareness of the value of preventative actions such as hand washing has grown. Increases in life expectancy at all ages in the second half of the 20th century have been attributed to improving social conditions and advances in medical technology such as mass immunisation and antibiotics.
All of this means that we are living longer on average. And as the population ages, we are experiencing a massive increase in the amount assistance needed for care for them.
Helping Aged Parents
The ageing process can have consequences for family dynamics, as the older generation begins to require increasing amounts of care.
Generally, older people want to remain living in their own home for as long as possible. Some can be proud and stubborn, and almost all are insistent about maintaining their mobility, independence and quality of life.
However, remaining in the home becomes a concern when children see their parents slowing down, perhaps even having trouble with handling stairs and doing general daily activities. The parents’ mental and physical health may start to decline, and there may be a growing appreciation of the desirability of engaging support services or other accommodations for aging parents.
This is the time to evaluate how best you can assist your older parents – now and into the future. What do you need to do to make life safe and secure for your loved ones in anticipation of aging disabilities that may occur?
What to do?
How do you begin to make sure your elderly family member is safe and managing well in their home, and perhaps is placed on the waiting list for respite or alternate accommodation?
The first step is to ensure that you have the lawful authority to make decisions and sign documents on behalf of your parent, by being named as their agent in some important legal documents.
General Enduring Power of Attorney
This document allows a person to appoint someone they know and trust to make important decisions about financial, property and legal matters. This authority can be activated straight away or alternatively only if and when the person who makes it loses mental competence.
It is a document by which they authorise another person or persons to act for them during their lifetime in respect of their legal & financial affairs (contracts, bank accounts, government departments, shares, real estate, etc).
Most people prefer to create what is called an Enduring Power of Attorney as it continues to operate in the event that they later become mentally incapacitated after, for example, an accident or suffering a stroke or becoming senile.
By signing a Power of Attorney they do not lose control over their own affairs while they are still able to manage them, and they can place limitations on their attorney which vary according to their requirements, but most people execute an unrestricted Enduring Power of Attorney. However, for obvious reasons everyone must be careful whom they appoint as your attorney, who must be somebody they can trust implicitly.
This type of power of attorney is one of the most important steps in estate planning. Whomever is named as agent makes all of the legal & financial decisions on behalf of their principal. By specifically picking someone to make those decisions, they help eliminate controversy and stress. They also avoid the costly and lengthy legal process of the court making their decisions.
Advance Care Directive
An Advance Care Directive broadly has two main objectives: a health care proxy and a Binding Refusal of Medical Treatment (sometimes known as a Living Will). The healthcare proxy can be thought of as a power of attorney for health care, and it designates a person, such as a spouse or trusted friend, who can legally act as your agent, making medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated.
The Binding Refusal of Medical Treatment portion describes the type of care you would want if you are critically ill. It is sometimes known as Do Not Resuscitate Command.
As a carer or guardian of elderly parents, you need them to address such questions as “Would you want to live in a persistent vegetative state with a feeding tube, despite the long-term costs?” or “Would you rather that the tube be withdrawn and die naturally with dignity?”
End-of-life guidelines are as much for the living as for the dying. Without specific instructions, family members may have to decide whether you would want to be kept alive artificially, what level of disability you’d be willing to live with and how to let you die if you had no hope of recovery.
Both the Power of Attorney and Advance Care Directive can assist you to care for your elderly parents in the latter part of their lives, and both should be created with a Last Will & Testament, by an experienced lawyer specialising in Estate Planning. All these important legal documents should be setup to work in an integrated fashion, and kept up to date.
Don’t Leave This Too Late
The ageing of Australia’s population is well-known, and yet many Australian families are still not well-prepared for its consequences. Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It is essential for every family to put in place, and it must be done properly. Don’t leave it too late. Once a person has lost their capacity (such as through stroke, accident, senility, dementia, Alzheimer’s etc) then they may have permanently lost their ability to create these sorts of legal documents.
In summary, you should encourage your parents to create these documents NOW (even if this is before they think they need such documents). If they wait until they need them, it will probably be too late for them to create them.
After You are Authorised
The nation as a whole is increasingly aware of elderly needs & services and products are becoming available at an outstanding pace. Once you have the proper legal authority to act on behalf of your elderly parents, you can make decisions and sign documents for them.
You may need to consider hiring a professional home care service to cater to your elderly parents in their homes with a variety of services. These providers allow people needing help with long term care to remain in their home or in the community instead of going to a care facility. The services offered may include:
- home remodelling services to make a home safer and more convenient for the elderly;
- safety alert systems and technology (including how to cope with the change to NBN);
- motion sensors to monitor movement and perhaps to guard or restrict access to insecure areas;
- automated medication dispenser that notifies when it is time to take medication.
- grooming and dressing
- incontinent care
- handyman services
- medication reminders
- bathing or showering
- light housekeeping
- meal preparation
- respite for family caregivers
- errands and shopping
- reading email or letters
- overseeing home deliveries
- dealing with vendors
- transportation services
- changing linens
- laundry and ironing
- care of lawn, garden & house maintenance
- 24-hour emergency response
- family counselling
- phone call checks
- recreational activities
As their caregiver, you can make the difference in the quality of life for your aging parents and if staying in their home is a possibility, you will have the legal authority to make it happen.
Genders and Partners can help you to protect yourself, your family and your assets. Let us assist you with Estate Planning in Adelaide metro area and all over South Australia, for your family’s future.
Contact us today on (08) 8212 7233 to arrange a FREE telephone consultation.
SPECIAL REPORT “7 Things You Must Know
Before You Make Your Will”
In this report you will Learn:
Why home-made Wills can be a LOT more expensive than you might think.
The secret weapons used by the rich & powerful to protect their assets, and transfer their wealth two or three generations ahead.
How Estate and Trustee Companies make BIG money from “free” Wills.
The Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes, how they can cost your family a fortune, and How to Avoid Them.
The Elements of a Sound Estate Plan – why a Will alone is not enough.
How to Make Sure Your Assets Stay in Your Family and are not lost to creditors, lawsuits or ex-spouses.
How to guard against challenges to your Estate after you’re gone.