I get asked this question a great deal. At any moment a parent could be injured, diagnosed with a serious illness or pass away. Having been through both, I understand the stress. Problems arise when you do not know what documents (powers of attorney, wills etc.) exist or where they are located. In 2008 I wrote a book on the legal, emotional and financial consequences of aging. The purpose of the book was to create a lighthearted roadmap for the senior and in particular their kids.
A crisis is not the time to go searching for documents. Many of life’s most important decisions take place in the waiting room instead of the living room. As an example, if your loved one had a stroke or any ailment where a signature is required, it is possible that the facility would not accept the signature as legally binding. Even a spouse is not legally permitted (this varies from place to place) to authorize medical treatments. While life-saving measures (EMS, ER’s) will be provided, any consent form must be signed by a competent individual in the eyes of the facility who is providing the treatment/surgery. While most people understand powers of attorney, it may be that one cannot be found when needed. Without an agent holding a power of attorney, one must be appointed by the probate court. This process should be avoided at all costs.
Other comments I hear are “I just found out my mother’s estate was never probated and now we can’t sell her house” or “I know my father had a will prepared but I can’t find it and don’t know who prepared it”. The list is endless – given I have had 31 years to accumulate it. The solution is simple. Right now, before there is a problem find out what your parents (or any older family member you care about) have or do not have, where the documents are located and get a copy if possible. I realize some elderly people can be secretive, but this only hurts us. In the end, everything they have is going to become known anyway. If the documents are old, outdated or missing, now is the time to find out.
Our process involves getting the appropriate documents prepared, signed, copied, and scanned. At the end of the process, everyone who needs or may need access will be provided a secure link to view or print the necessary documents.