Legal Documents to Discuss with Aging Parents

by Kay Lynn

Living Will
Both my husband and I have already lost one parent each.  As they age, our remaining parents experience occasional health crises.My father-in-law has been in and out of hospitals and convalescent centers several times this year.  He’s home now and stable, but has full time assistance and doesn’t drive anymore.

If anyone asks, we say he’s fine; but it’s really a new normal.   The old lifestyle is gone.

During this last episode my husband received a call from a social worker.  Did he have a medical power of attorney (POA)?  The answer was no.  But it made us think about what we should do or say to his sibling and father.

I found out there are several legal documents to consider putting in place in case they are needed in the future.

Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney gives the named individual(s) the ability to manage your finances.  It can be provisioned so it doesn’t take effect unless the person is declared incapacitated by medical professionals.  It can also have limits on authority spelled out.  Otherwise, a general POA gives legal rights to make all financial decisions.

This form can be easily executed by completing it and signing in front of a notary public and witnesses.  You’ll want to make sure it is durable which means it doesn’t become invalid if the person becomes mentally incapacitated.

Power of Attorney for Health Care

This is also called a medical power of attorney and is often included in advanced directives.  It gives your designee the ability to make medical decisions in the event you are no longer able to do so.

Normally, these decisions would fall to the next of kin, but sometimes you want someone else.  Also, it can be difficult to run every decision through a group of adult children who may not even be in the area.

Living Will

A living will is often thought of interchangeably with  health care directives.  Actually it is one document in health care directives which details the types of treatment and measures a person wants performed to save their life.  Common items people do not want used include ventilators, tube feedings and resuscitation.

It would be used when you are no longer able to give direction to your health care providers.


The social worker did us a favor with a wake-up call that it’s time to discuss these types of documents as well as other important details (such as where to find account information, etc.).  Being prepared can make the next medical crises a little less stressful. 

Have you talked to your parents about power of attorneys and living wills?
Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by markhillary

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krantcents June 3, 2011 at 9:15 am

It is best to talk to your parents before you need these things. It is usually not a fun conversation because you are talking about their mortality. I went through this with my mother because the retirement home requires it when you enter it. I would suggest doing it as early as possible that way it is not associated with old age and mortality.

Kay Lynn June 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I agree, but my husband’s family just doesn’t talk about anything unpleasant. It’s hard for me to fathom. Having said that, my siblings need to talk to our remaining parent and stepparent. I will do so on my next visit this fall.

Evan June 3, 2011 at 11:07 am

In some states a Medical POA is also referred to as a Health Care Proxy. It is customary that when an attorney does your Will these documents get created also, but sometimes it is overlooked and they are SO IMPORTANT.

They aren’t expensive to do and most State Bar Websites or Dept of Health sites will have a free form which is better than nothing.

Kay Lynn June 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Evan, thanks for adding such valuable information. It can be confusing to people when states have different terms for the same type of document.

Jerry June 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Having a living will is so important. I did one several years ago and it definitely leads to peace of mind. Making sure all of your parents insurance policies are in order are also a good idea.

Super Frugalette June 4, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I sent my folks our will…but I don’t have a copy of theirs or even know where it is…I know they have one.

Little House June 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I just got back from visiting my father and step-mom and I was shocked that all of a sudden my dad seemed old. He turned 70 this year and it really scared me. Now, granted, I hadn’t seen him in over 2 years, so the shock wore off after a couple of days. But still, it got me thinking about his finances (we even discussed them a bit – a first) and how all of us kids (there are 5 of us in all – half siblings and step) will have to manage health and financial issues as they come up. I know their will is in order and the oldest step-brother is the Financial POA, so that’s helpful. But realized I need to start going through this information with my other set of parents as well to make sure their will is in order. One of the effects of the ’70’s -divorced parents means there’s more than one set to worry about!

Buck Inspire June 5, 2011 at 12:06 am

Not a fun subject, but very important. Thanks for the wake up call!

Financial Samurai June 5, 2011 at 12:25 am

Definitely a topic we need to know more about. Thanx for addressing the topic.

June Young June 5, 2011 at 8:32 am

It’s a sensitive topic and thank you for sharing this with all of us. It’s valuable to know about these things no matter how hard they are to talk about.

Keep writing very informative articles!

Barb Friedberg June 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I am so lucky on this matter. My parents have been extremely proactive and open wrt to their finances. I have all of their legal and estate docs and have power of attorney as well.

No Debt MBA June 9, 2011 at 11:18 am

My parents have none of these documents and while they are both in good health it still scares me sometimes that they are missing should something happen. I’ve suggested a couple times that steps like this might be a good idea and they agree but it is simply not a priority for them to get done right now which is their decision.

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