Health Care and Financial Power of Attorney

With all I’ve gone through with my mom in the last six months, I want to share some of the things I think everyone should have in place.

After a spate of funerals – seemed like people were dropping like flies – I insisted Ken and I, my oldest sister and my mom all got POA (power of attorney’s) in place.  We live in Wisconsin so my daughter found this resource – Advanced Directives

With mom being so sick in the last six months, I’ve been grateful for taking those steps.  There were other steps I had to take but the doctor’s office / hospitals all had the POAs on file.  This meant when it came to medical decisions, we were able to step in and see to it mom was treated in a way we knew she would want.

There were other things which had to be done.  No one could write out checks for her but mom.  I had to go to her bank and see what the options were.  The bank was helpful and informative.  It probably helped that I bank at the same place.  The end result – mom signed a form to make me an authorized signator on her account.  This allows me to sign checks for her.  Since I’m not taking care of her finances, it helps a lot to not have to run to her every time a bill comes in and needs paying.

Get a support system.  If it weren’t for my sisters backing me up, I think I’d pull my hair out.  Every decision is more difficult because it isn’t a decision for me – it’s a decision on what I think mom would want.  Communication is key because if people don’t know what you’re doing and why they will question you.  They might anyway but at least if you’re communicating openly, you can say I told you all of this.

Step away when you need to.  If you need a break or you can’t handle one more thing, be honest and hand it off to another family member.  Make sure you are taking care of you because if you’re down for the count, no one is able to look after your loved one.

The point is to get all of this in place for your parents, yourself, and your children (even younger ones).  Then when something happens, you can make good decisions without having the added stress of guessing what the person would want.

Getting Your Ducks in a Row

I’m getting an education which I’m not sure I want.  With my mom in the nursing home, I’m taking point on her financial stuff.  My siblings are standing behind me which is nice.  However, it means I’m digging into a lot of tasks and information in order to take care of my mother’s stuff.

Here are a few things I’ve learned.  Make sure you have a power of attorney for both health and finances.  This is just a first step.  In addition, give the person who is POA access to medical and financial stuff.  This doesn’t mean you have to turn over your accounts to them but it makes it easier.  Mom has bills to pay and while she is able to write checks and such it is hard for her as she is tired and recovering.  I had to go to her bank get to become an authorized signator on her account.  This allows me to sign her checks and pay for things with her money rather than paying for it myself and having to get paid back.  The medical allows the medical community to talk to me about her appointments and her treatment. 

This is the business end of it.  When my sister and I went to prepay for my mom’s final wishes (no she’s not dying but it’s better to be prepared), I had to write a large check.  Every time I write a check, I question is this necessary?  Is this what mom would want?  I’m spending someone else’s money which in theory sounds fun but the reality is I’m more conservative and concerned with her money than I am with my own. 

Mom needed a few clothes and a new bathrobe.  My daughter and I shopped, got good prices but still I questioned whether I was getting the right things, too many, not enough.  It’s her money.  It’s hard for me to spend it.  I know – this is what I’m supposed to do but still. 

There are so many details to keep track of I feel like I’m forgetting something important.  We are trying to get mom registered with a county program to help once she goes to my sister’s house.  This means I’m looking through all of mom’s paperwork to pull what they need.  In order to qualify for the programs, she has to have less than $2000 in assets.  This includes life insurance policies, money in the bank, and anything else (cars, houses etc).  The more she has, the more I have to figure out if it counts.  Apparently for life insurance, whole life counts against her assets but term life doesn’t. 

Mom has one policy.  I called and asked.  They wouldn’t talk to me.  I understand I’m a voice on the phone but I had to fax over the POA which isn’t really in affect because mom isn’t incapacitated.  Next I have to call again and work my way through their phone system.  It eats up time.  Once I get the answer to my which type of policy is it, I’ll have to take the next steps.  Whole life she has to cash in and then spend the money down.  Term life she can keep. 

It’s a lot of work.  It’s a lot of details.  With mom being 86, I know at some point dealing with her will and her belongings is going to be an issue.  Since I’m her executor, I’ll have all those details to deal with.  I’m trying not to stress out about all of this but it all rolls into one massive ball of wholly shit this is a lot.

I keep reminding myself I can only do one step at a time, one thing at a time.  I have wonderful family backing me up.  With six of us total, we have rarely agreed on anything but when it comes to mom we all seem to be on the same page with her care and how much we’re willing to allow the medical people to do.  My daughters have been amazing with offering support via phone (for the two in Georgia) and with helping with all the details.  My husband has been good about helping with logistics and being there to listen to me cope with all of the stress. 

I’m learning a lot with this whole process.  The next step – when I have time to take a breath – is to get stuff set up for my hubby and me so it’s as simple as possible for our daughters.

Necessary Documents

With my mother’s recent hospital stay, I’ve been digging into what legal documents you should have in place just because.  This is an uncomfortable topic because it involves conversations about what happens if you are incapacitated or dead.

First I’m not a lawyer so this isn’t legal advice.  This is me telling you – this is what I’ve learned.

The one most people know about is the will.  You should have your will updated regularly.  This helps to ensure that your stuff gets distributed the way you want it to.  Now anyone can contest a will but hopefully your heirs will respect your wishes.

There are two power of attorney documents you should consider having as well.  The first is for health care.  It is simply who will make decisions about your health care if you can’t.  The other one is for your finances.  This is the person you want taking care of your money when you’re incapacitated.

A living will sounds like a regular will but it isn’t.  It is a document that states what happens if you are in a vegetative state.  Again this is so your wishes are followed when you can’t say what your wishes are.

For Wisconsin there is also a document about the disposition of your body.  Obviously, you’re dead so this is telling people what you want to happen to your body once you’re gone.  

Like most other people I am guilty of not having these in place.  I have a will but it is thirty years old, two of my daughters weren’t even born when Ken and I had them made up.  The other documents don’t exist yet.

I will be rectifying this.  I’m going to sit down with Ken and we are going to create these documents.  It won’t be hard because all I have to do is go to google and type in power of attorney wisconsin and all sorts of things come up.  Mostly though I’m looking for the ones the government gives out for free.  I get the four (not the will) from there.  The other thing I’m going to do is find our current wills and use that format to create new wills.

After we get them all done, we just need signatures, notary (I think) and witnesses.  But we won’t be done yet.  The final step is to distribute all of the documents to our daughters.  This way they know what we want and have a copy so they can be responsible and not have to make the tough decisions when they are upset because we have croaked.  At least I hope they are upset – maybe not – depends on how much we’ve annoyed them… (That’s humor – sick and demented but still humor).

It is hard to talk about this stuff for a lot of people because no one wants to talk about death and ultimate this is a conversation about death.  However, in order to make sure you have your wishes followed this is necessary.