It’s a scary feeling to realize that your aging parent could be starting to lose mental capacity. From an estate planning and preservation perspective, you may need to take some specific steps to help your parent.
Signs of Losing Mental Capacity
While not everyone shows the same signs if they are losing capacity, it might be time for you to step in if you notice the following:
- Trouble paying the bills or filling out forms
- Difficulty communicating clearly
- Foggy memory
- Not understanding conversations about health or finances
In California, you need certain levels of mental capacity to sign a contract, make a will, or make medical decisions for yourself. If your parent declines to the point that he or she cannot make decisions on his or her own behalf, then any wills signed or contracts made after that point might be invalidated by a court later. More importantly, your parent might need help taking care of himself or herself.
Options for Parents and Children
Children can encourage their aging parents to make estate plans before their health declines. An estate plan for an older parent should include an advance directive, living will, and/or medical power of attorney. These documents enable an agent of the parent’s choice to make certain medical and end-of-life decisions for the parent when he or she is unable to do so. The parent also could sign a financial power of attorney allowing an agent to handle finances, pay bills, and even manage investments if needed.
Further, parents should complete any desired estate planning as early as possible if they are starting to show signs of declining capacity. Children can encourage their parents to visit an estate planning attorney as soon as possible (just after retirement from a job is often a good time).
If your aging parent is having a lot of trouble making decisions, managing personal care, or handling finances, it could be time for a conservatorship. In California, a conservatorship involves a judge appointing a conservator to handle day-to-day needs, financial needs, or both for an adult. Obtaining a conservatorship is a complicated legal process that may require the help of an attorney, but it may be the best option for your parent.
Planning your estate? Look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful estate planning advice. Janet’s more than 20 years of legal experience will give you confidence and peace of mind. To schedule a “Get Acquainted” meeting, visit Janet's website or call her office at (650) 469-8206.