As your parents age, it may be become difficult for them to make decisions on their own. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Your mom or dad may develop dementia, Alzheimer's, aphasia or another type of neurological disorder. Your parent may be injured or develop an illness where they may not be able make financial or medical decisions.
First, is there an estate plan?
If your parent has an estate plan in place, this may provide guidance and allow you to make decisions for your mom or dad. There are some specific estate planning documents that can help such as:
- Living wills: If your parent has a living will, this document may outline your parent's medical wishes if he or she becomes incapacitated. This can be helpful if your parent is unconscious or otherwise unable to make health care decisions.
- Health care proxies: This type of document appoints an individual to make health care decisions on your parent's behalf. If your parent has a health care proxy, then the individual named in that document can make health-related decisions for your parent.
- Powers of attorney: Similar to a health care proxy, this document appoints an individual to make financial decisions on behalf of your parent. If your parent created a power of attorney, then the individual named can assist with paying bills, selling real estate and other key financial decisions that may arise.
- Trusts: Trusts can hold assets and disperse funds as described by the trust documents. If your parent has a trust, the trustee who oversees it can help you to understand the terms of the trust and any impact it may have on your situation.
When there is no estate plan
If your parent does not have estate planning documents in place, and he or she becomes unable to make decisions, then a guardianship or conservatorship may be appropriate. A guardian can make personal and medical decisions on an individual's behalf. A conservator, on the other hand, can make financial and business-related decisions for an individual.
Every situation is different. As a result, it is important to speak with an attorney about your situation. A lawyer can help you weight your options and determine if guardianship or conservatorship is appropriate for your family.
How do you become a guardian or conservator?
A court will need to appoint you as a guardian, a conservator or both. This legal process can be daunting, especially if you have not gone through it before. An attorney can guide you through the steps necessary to become a guardian or conservator and help you understand your responsibilities in those roles.