Why is there a reluctance within some families to look at and discuss the legal, financial and healthcare issues of an elderly parent or spouse?
There's often a number of reasons for this. It can be a refusal or unwillingness to acknowledge an aging parent’s physical and/or mental decline, and so don’t want to talk about a future time when the parent(s) will be less capable, and what that’s going to look like.
It can also be about the confusion surrounding the changing and reversal of parent/child roles, and the additional stress of those with families of their own who are anticipating the greater responsibilities for their parents' care they’ll need to take on.
Often parents are reluctant to share this kind of information because they feel it’s deeply personal, represents their sense of control and independence and so are concerned they’ll lose that by sharing their vulnerability, and simply, they don’t want to feel like they’re being a “burden” on their children. Cultural influences and generational expectations come into play as well.
Ironically, it’s the very act of getting proactive and putting these legal documents in place that will ensure their care will be less of a “burden” to their children when they have more options surrounding their care if they have the legal authorization to do so.
It really comes down to the very human act of not wanting things to change. It’s distressing to see your elderly parent or spouse no longer the able-bodied and independent person you’ve known for so many years. And though you know it’s necessary, there’s sometimes some resentment around how your own emotions, behaviour and routines need to change as well.
But change you must, and if you want to see your loved ones receive the best possible support and care, it’s critical to set things up so you have as many options as possible.
At the top of this list, it means having your parent or spouse allow you to review their legal documents to make sure you have the legal authority to act on your loved one’s behalf.
This also means you need to have some open, honest discussions about their wishes, and how their legal documents, whether to be created or updated, are to help both them and you come up with a plan that will address their current and future needs. To have the best possible outcome for this plan, you need to have the legal authority to speak on your parent’s behalf.
It’s especially critical that this be done while your parent or spouse is still considered competent enough to enter into any legal contracts. If their GP, lawyer or notary deems them to no longer be competent, no-one can change their will and create or update a Power of Attorney or Representative Agreement.
Despite your best intentions, you will be very limited as to what you can do – adding more to your stress. Neither you or your loved one are able to access money from their bank accounts, get investment balances from their financial advisor or talk with the Canada Revenue Agency about their taxes, pensions or benefits.
If your loved one has a business, you will have no say on its operation or succession. It will be of immense help if Buy/Sell Agreement and Partner Insurance contracts were put in place – and stipulated specific protocols in the event of lost competency, but money received will not be accessible for you to manage on your parent’s behalf.