As our parents get older and begin to lose their independence, many will turn to their adult children to help them navigate the complicated and costly world of long-term care.

For adult children who are already caring for young kids of their own, this new role of “caregiver” can be a difficult one to assume.   It’s easy to see why this group of people has been classified as the “Sandwich Generation”.  They are literally ‘sandwiched’ between the pressures of raising a family, holding down a job and managing their mother and/or father’s growing medical and financial needs. 

Planning Ahead is The Key to Retaining Control

Medical and long-term care needs for aging parents can be overwhelming, and Sandwich Generation children can be tempted to “bury their heads in the sand.” However, failing to talk about and plan for an older parents’ needs can cause the family to miss out on important benefits, long-term care opportunities, and the ability to stay in control during mom or dad’s final years.

Keep in mind—if you don’t make prior arrangements, by stipulating your wishes in legal documents, for financial and medical decisions, within your family, the courts will do it for you. Creating an estate plan, in advance, while your parents are still able to decide, communicate and express their wishes and preferences for their own financial management and care, can help avoid family machlokes and make life easier for everyone involved.

6 Legal Planning Steps to Take

As an Elder Law attorney, the following six planning steps are recommended to help ensure aging parents are afforded the most protection, flexibility, and financial security, while helping the adult child retain life balance and personal sanity:

  1. Find out if your parents have an estate plan and whether it’s been updated in the past five years – The Will, Trust, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Directives, your parents created years ago, may not reflect their wishes and long-term care needs now.  See what they have in place and have it reviewed by an attorney to ensure their documents are halachically compliant, and have stayed up to date, as their life and the law has changed through the years.
  2. Determine How You’ll Pay for Long-Term Care – Nursing home and home health care can cost over $100,000 per year, and Medicare will not cover these costs.  Medicaid may pay these expenses, provided you are hovering around the financial poverty level. The only other option is to pay out of pocket – unless, of course, you plan ahead.  By acting in advance and not waiting until your hands are tied in a crisis, planning tools such as long-term care insurance, Trusts, and Promissory Notes, may be available to help your parents pay for their care, without losing everything they’ve worked so hard for during their lifetime.
  3. Get the Legal Authority You Need Now to Manage Their Affairs and Maintain Control – If your parents do not have powers of attorney or health care directives that allow you to communicate with doctors, access medical records, and manage their financial affairs, it’s a good idea to create them now while mom and/or dad is still in good health. Otherwise, if a sudden medical crisis strikes, or your parents no longer have the mental capacity to sign legal documents down the road, you’ll be forced to petition a court for control, resulting in wasted time, money, and loss of privacy.
  4. Document Their End-of-Life Wishes – Thousands of families each year are torn apart trying to decide what their loved one “would have wanted” in serious medical situations.  Avoid the stress and conflict, with other family members, by asking your parents their wishes about life support and end of life issues, and legally document their choices. For Orthodox Jews, Torah guidelines govern these crucial decisions and designating a Rav in their legal documents, a rabbinic authority well versed in these areas, can ensure their decisions are honored within the purview of halacha.
  5. Ensure Their Wills and Trusts Comply HalachicallyIf your parents don’t have a Will, complying with the Torah laws of yerusha (inheritance) is usually not possible. If they have a Will and/or Trust stating their distribution plan, but do not have halachic documentation and have not performed the necessary halachic procedures, their beneficiaries may be violating halacha, when they receive an inheritance, which can lead to a challenge in beis din, or even worse, a contest in secular court. 
  6. Get Organized Now to Avoid Last Minute Scrambling – Gather your parents’ important

Information, now, and keep it in a safe place, with easy access, to avoid any confusion and delays, in the event of a medical emergency.  Some important documents to collect would include: insurance information; the front and back of all ID cards, including driver’s license, prescription cards, and military ID card; prior medical history; names and numbers of doctors; health care directives; and a list of current medication and doses.

By being proactive, and planning for these issues in advance, you can help make sure your parents always receive the care they need, without worry or financial struggle.  You’ll further avoid many costly legal headaches adult children face when they are not prepared for their parent’s incapacity or ongoing care needs.  It’s never too early to get started, so begin to take steps now to put plans in place that protect your parents, their assets, and your own peace of mind during mom and dad’s golden years.