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Practical Caregiving

Planning for Love One's End is Essential Hard Work

By Jean Donahue

Aunt Vivien passed away a few weeks ago. I always thought a lot of her, but on top of that, the way she took care of her husband before he died seven years ago was inspiring.

They didnít have any children, so she was his life and he was hers. She found a good nursing home for him (which isnít the easiest thing to do) and visited him as often as she could. Most of the time she visited every day for a few hours, but when she had health problems of her own,it was less often. She realized that she needed to take care of her health so that she could continue taking care of him.

After he died, she lost part of the reason to live, but she did her best to find friends and develop things to enjoy. She became involved with friends and family again, made new friends and joined a Mahjong group (among other things). She knew she shouldnít just sit down and mourn for years. She needed to do what she could to live as happy a life as possible.

That is something we all need to keep in mind: We all have our own lives and need to look forward to the future. When we can we should do a few things we want to do.

There is something else she did that we all should do, although perhaps not quite as often. She updated her will. In fact, she updated it six times in the last seven years. She wanted to make sure it was exactly as she wanted it to be and that everyone received what she wanted them to receive. Some people received a little money, but some received things. We all appreciate her diligence.

As a family caregiver, we need to plan for the future of our loved one, as well as our own future. If your loved one doesnít have a will, help them prepare one. They donít need to have a lot of money to make a will important. There are a lot of assets they have accumulated over the years. Perhaps a watch their grandfather was awarded from the railroad. Or a lamp or end table they made, a small coin collection, a ring from their school or military service, or a lot of other things. They need to decide who they want to get those things.

You should do the same thing. You should decide who you want to give your things to, then make it legal. Family members seem to fight over what is left after a person dies, unless it is spelled out in a will. Of course, any money should be divided up in the will. The more specific everything is spelled out, the better. If possible, everyone should be told the basics of the will.

Other documents you loved one should fill out and sign are a living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare. You can include the information in one document, or two, whichever works better for you and your loved one. Exactly what you need to include depends on the laws of the state in which your loved one lives, because each state has different laws. The easiest way to find this information is to call a lawyer. The important thing to remember is that you need to learn the laws in that state before you can draw up anything legal.

What about the money your loved one is living on? Can anyone else write a check for them, get into their savings, or take care of the bills if your loved one can't? Someone needs to be able to do that. Someone should have a durable power of attorney so medical expenses will be paid as well as other expenses. Your loved one needs to sign the necessary papers to make that possible.

When I was taking care of my parents, I had to make those decisions. Dad put my name on all his financial documents so I could pay the bills and continue taking care of Mom if something happened to him. Mom had Alzheimer's disease and didn't know I was her daughter. Dad was never able to sign anything giving me the authority to make health decisions for him. The only reason the doctors and hospitals did what I said was the fact that I physically lived with Mom and Dad. If anyone wanted to contest what I said, the state laws would have come into play. Neither Mom nor Dad wanted to be put on respirators for months to keep them alive, but some states would have done that because that is their law.

You also need to consider doing these things for yourself. If you were in a car accident and ended up in the hospital, would someone be able to take over for you? Would someone be able to sign for you to have surgery if you were not able to sign those papers?

We all want to believe we will live forever, but we won't. Please do what is necessary now so everything will be the way your loved one wants it done.