For many the holiday season involves a ritual return to the home place or where parents have retired. A time of (hoped for) rest and reconnection can quickly be disrupted with a jolt.
Children learn that the simple procedure dad had was not so simple, and he’s not “fine” despite mom’s reports. It’s discovered that Aunt Jenny is always harkening back to old times because the truth is she is having trouble remembering the present. Discovery of unpaid bills, unkempt family or homes, the reality of a marked physical decline all leave family understandably upset. They wonder what should they do to make sure everything and everyone is taken care of.
The options vary based on individual circumstances, but if a person has the ability to understand her financial and medical affairs now, she can simply create an estate plan. The plan will address what will happen as she declines, at her death and who will have authority to act. It is more complicated if the person is incapacitated, meaning she cannot understand her affairs. In this case, the family may need to petition the court for the authority to make medical and financial decisions.
If you have concerns and even if a loved one has declined (cognitively or physically) keep in mind that they are still adults. They’ve lived rich, full lives, excelled in their profession, and indeed, may have been your caregiver. Do not demean them. Do not underestimate them. Even if they cannot fully understand their affairs, they can still have insight into how they can be supported. A number of professionals might be needed to offer guidance including a primary care physician, geriatric care manager, attorney, accountant, minister or other support from the person’s community of faith, etc. The most important point is this: begin the conversation and do so lovingly.