This column presents general information regarding estate and disability planning and probate. It is not intended to ceate an attorney-client relationship or constitute legal advice to readers. Individuals with legal concerns should consult with an attorney for advice regarding their specific circumstances.

Caring for your aging parents is not an easy task. More likely, it is frustrating, overwhelming and exhausting, or sometimes, all three at once. In turn, this may cause stress in your life which can manifest itself in various ways, including illness, depression and/or anxiety, or strained family relationships. Any way you look at it, caregiving is not for the faint of heart; it is a tough job.

Currently, it is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population provides care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member and spends, on average, twenty hours per week providing that care. And, as more and more people want to age in place, and with the baby boomer generation getting older, the number of family caregivers is expected to rise. There are things you can do, though, to make the job less stressful.

Generally, it is always best to have a plan, and break it down into manageable sections. For caregiving, I suggest organizing it into the following categories: personal, housing, medical, and financial. The caregiver and parent should discuss each of these categories and agree on a course of action.

First, it is important to know your parent’s personal wants and needs. Satisfying those requirements will depend largely on the type of long-term care your parent is likely to require. Obviously, no one can predict the future, but you certainly can ascertain your parent’s current physical and mental conditions, the family’s medical history and the lifestyle your parent expects to maintain. For most, living independently for as long as possible is ideal. Usually, this requires that the parent stay healthy both physically and mentally. The more physical and social activities your parent participates in, the more likely they are to maintain their health and independence.

Second, you and your parent should discuss where the caregiving is going to take place. Will your parent be moving, or will you travel to your parent? Any decision in this regard will have an impact on your immediate family (i.e. your spouse and/or children) so they should be included in that part of the discussion. Moreover, are you able to care for your parent at home, or would their needs better be met at an assisted living facility or nursing home? To determine the best housing option for your parent, you will need to compare the costs of any modifications to the home as well as the cost of assistive devices needed to continue to reside in their home, with the costs of an assisted living or nursing facility. Likely, the home will need significant modifications which may include ramps, handrails, grab bars, wheelchair access, widening of doorways, or even the addition of a first-story bedroom or handicap accessible bathroom. Also, be sure to check if there are any in-home or community services available to assist with transportation, shopping, housekeeping or yardwork and their respective costs.

Next, there should be a discussion about end-of-life care. Make sure your parent has a health care power of attorney and an advance directive or living will. It is imperative that your parent appoints a health care agent to make medical decisions for them in the event they are incapacitated or incompetent. Similarly, they should have a living will or advance directive that states their wishes regarding the use of life-sustaining procedures, including whether they want a “Do Not Resuscitate” order entered in their medical instruction chart. Also, if your parent has any final disposition instructions for their body after their death, they should be included in these documents as well.

Finally, what is your parent’s financial situation? Do they have sufficient funds to pay for their long-term care? If not, what programs are available to pay for that type of care? Generally, Medicaid is the only program available to pay for long-term care, but it is a needs-based program so your parent will have to meet the eligibility requirements.

And, most importantly, you need to make sure your parent has a durable financial power of attorney that names an agent to manage their finances if they become incapacitated or incompetent. That agent also should be made aware of what income and assets your parent has and where the assets are located.

Jessica L. Estes is an elder law and estate planning attorney at ERA Law Group, LLC in Annapolis. She can be reached at (410) 919-1790 or via email at [email protected].

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