Co-founder of a website with information for people caring for elderly relatives, offers some prompts on points to check with clients
There are now 10 million people in the UK over 65. This figure will rise to 15.5 million by 2032, with the number of octogenarians growing even faster to 6 million. In a survey of middle-aged people by myageingparent.com – a website dedicated to helping people care for their ageing parents – 93% had parents who were very dependent on them in some way, and 72% had a real problem getting the relevant legal advice they needed to help their parents.
In this recent research, myageingparent.com found that over two-thirds of people wanted to know more about the legal issues relating to elderly parents. They really want as much relevant information as possible to find their way through the legal maze of caring for an elderly relative.
Yet it is possible that when someone visits a legal adviser regarding one specific legal issue, that adviser may not necessarily think about advising further on other areas, which may actually be of enormous help to their clients.
There are several key legal areas for an adviser to consider mentioning to their clients, when discussing their situation as an elderly person, or indeed discussing an elderly person with a relative caring for that person.
Have they made a will?
As you will be aware, it is vital to check whether an elderly person has made a will. First, this ensures that those people whom they want to benefit from their estate on death receive their entitlement. If they are married, they may want to leave everything to their spouse, as this will ensure that no inheritance tax will be paid on their death. Secondly, they should make a will to avoid uncertainty or ambiguity, which could result in a dispute later. If someone dies having not made a will, the rules of intestacy apply and working out a spouse’s entitlement on intestacy can be very complex and costly. They can also consider making a trust within the will to provide income to others in specific circumstances. Many of your clients may be unaware of the hazards of dying intestate.
Have they considered making a living will?
A living will, increasingly known as an “advanced directive”, is a statement explaining what medical treatment your ageing parent would not want to accept in the future, should they become incapable of making decisions for themselves. This can relate to all future treatments, not just those which may be immediately life-saving. It does not have to be written down (except in the case where the individual decides to refuse life-saving treatment), although most are, as a written document is less likely to be challenged.
At a time when the rights and dignity of the individual are paramount and increasingly discussed, advanced directives are featuring more and more in the legal landscape. They represent significant mechanisms for both safeguarding and promoting an individual’s health and interests. Ideally, everyone should make one but, in particular, people with a progressive neurological disease, or perhaps mild memory loss, which might render the person at risk of progressing to dementia. Dementia is on the rise and even people who currently have no health issues might want to be aware of living wills in case of future crisis.
When might your client need to think about establishing power of attorney?
Power of attorney enables your elderly clients to give power to another person to look after their affairs when they no longer have capacity to do so themselves. Advising your clients that power of attorney is an option for both property and finance, and health management, is key and it is critical that they are aware of these options well in advance of an elderly person becoming genuinely incapacitated. Deborah Stone (one of the founders of myageingparent.com) has a brother-in-law, who had a stroke at the age of 49. He has fully recovered, but his wife now has power of attorney over him in case of problems in the future. Similarly, the family have power of attorney for her mother, even though currently she has full control of her mental faculties, as she has suffered a TIA (transient ischemic attack), also known as mini-stroke.
Should your client register their parent as disabled?
Your client may want to help their parent legally register as disabled if appropriate, to help them to access certain facilities, such as disabled toilets, eligibility for a blue parking badge, concessions such as a disabled person’s rail card, and reclaiming VAT on specific disability equipment. Registering as disabled will not have any impact on applications for welfare benefits. You should contact your parent’s local authority for more information.
Frustrated by the inability to access the facts about the resources which were potentially on hand to help with the care of their elderly parents, both personally and anecdotally from friends and colleagues, Deborah Stone and Alex Ingram decided to set up a website which would provide an accessible, authoritative and continuously updated source of information about caring for ageing parents and how to access critical resources. They recognised that caring for a parent entails dealing with practical, physical and emotional issues, as well as acute and chronic conditions, often with people having to deal with several of these issues combined.
Myageingparent.com includes information on approaching GPs, care funding entitlements, care assessments, continuous care, what to look for in choosing a care solution, including the key questions to ask, along with advice on medical conditions, key legal issues and how to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle for your parent. It also provides support to the carer in terms of dealing with the stress and worry of looking after their elderly parent. For more information, visit www.myageingparent.com