Legal-Ease: Appropriate roles when caring for aging parents

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

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

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

Further challenging adult children’s ability to help in this situation is the fact that attorneys’ ethics rules do not allow attorneys to proactively contact people who have not contacted the attorney first 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 an attorney. 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 may appear to need help, but many parents have sufficient resources to survive financially if those resources are managed properly. Almost all people aged 65 and older are on Medicare. If a parent is particularly impoverished, beyond Medicare, a parent can be eligible for Medicaid.

Most people have paid into social security or have retirement accounts on which to live in retirement. And if a parent is not yet retired but unable to work, the parent may be eligible for disability.

Nevertheless, if parents need financial help, it is appropriate to provide that 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 kids.

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

Nobody wants to spend money on in-home care to help a parent bathe and dress and then to assist in some other aspects of physical care like cooking and light cleaning. However, even if an adult child is a physician or nurse, there is a big difference between caring for someone else as a part of a job versus caring for a parent. Ultimately, many people over-do it in the physical assistance aspect of caring for a parent.

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

In summary, be gentle and respectful when encouraging parents to help themselves legally. Standby to help parents use their existing financial resources most effectively, and be prudent when providing financial support yourself. Be extra careful to avoid over-doing it when it comes to physically caring for 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 agriculture issues 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 sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.