How do I know when it's time to manage my father's affairs?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 12, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father signed his living trust, will, advanced healthcare directive, and durable power of attorney. That puts me in charge of everything, but WHEN do I know for sure I need to step in and make financial or health related decisions? He lives alone with minimal help but is wasting away. Is that enough to allow me to force him to have a caregiver daily or move to a facility?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Kudos to your father for finalizing all these documents"”which he likely did with your encouragement.

As you're finding out, even the most fastidious estate planning doesn't always help solve the real and practical problems of aging. The living trust and will, while likely tremendous angst-relievers during life, have no effect until your father's death.

You should get the best guidance about when the healthcare directive and power of attorney take effect by looking at the documents themselves. Some are written to take effect immediately. But the vast majority don't take effect until the principal who made them is deemed mentally incompetent. Most often, that too, is defined in the document"”which typically might require that a doctor or sometimes two of them certify that the principal is no longer capable of making decisions on his or her own.

Given that your father is still able to live alone in most ways, it sounds as if you have not officially been empowered to take over his affairs by any of the documents. And that is a hard place to be pinned.

For now, at least, your caregiving actions might need to be made in a less formal way. Even from the way you've phrased your question, you know how difficult it can be to "force" an independent (and perhaps stubborn) person to move or accept help. And it may even be more harm than help.

If you're most concerned about him getting the proper food and nutrition, focus on that. You may be able to enlist the help of others to get the needed nudge. First, make sure your father is examined by a competent physician"”ideally, one with good fingertips in dealing with older patients"”and find out whether there is some medical reason for his weight loss.

If bad or lazy or disinterested eating habits are to blame, perhaps begin with a surreptitious way to get some regular meals introduced"”a neighborhood senior center, a lunch or card group, a religious or community organization that provides meals. Home meal delivery services provide the added benefit of making sure another person gets to "eyeball" your dad daily; many people agree to try such services for a week or two"”then report getting hooked on the help.