Are you next in line to be a trustee for a family member? Or, your spouse, who has taken care of everything, is suddenly unable to carry on as before. With proper planning, you should be equipped to take over immediate medical and financial affairs. This checklist is for you– what you need to do when neither parent is able to continue caring for themselves or each other. First a disclaimer: while there is a lot of information here, this is a brief, general checklist. Taking the time to consult with an estate planning attorney about your particular situation is always advised. My goal in presenting this list is to give you a short list of items that will help you immediately step in and deal with the situation that demands your immediate attention.
Provide Immediate Care
First, take care of yourself. The role reversal of parenting your parents is a shock, and the mental trauma of seeing your parents suffer can have different effects at different times. Make sure you have a support network for yourself. You should notify the family of the change in your parent’s condition. Your parent may need ongoing personal attention, including in-home care, hospice or other types of assistance.
Locate important papers, including their estate plan, and particularly their Durable Power of Attorney and their Advance Health Care Directive. Once you locate those documents, you’ll need to take copies of the Durable Power of Attorney to any banks or financial institutions you need to manage on their behalf. You’ll also need to take copies of the Advance Health Care Directive to any medical provider so you can be notified of any medical treatment or recommendations and be able to arrange for any necessary medical treatment.
Consult With Experts As Needed
Review the situation with local estate planning attorney – are there any last minute estate planning decisions that need to be made? There may be steps that your parents have missed and need immediate action to avoid probate or taxes. Additional steps may be necessary to protect the estate and qualify your parents for assistance from the VA or Medi-Cal. If you suspect elder abuse, contact an elder law attorney with litigation experience immediately. Even if you’re not sure, the attorney can help advise you on steps you can take to protect your parents, or discover if abuse did take place. If you need help with record keeping, talk to a CPA about setting up a simple system for keeping important records organized. A good system will make it much easier for you when it comes to filing taxes, and if there is ever any question about your actions as the agent, you’ll have the documentation you’ll need to protect yourself. Having a conversation with your parent's insurance agent to make sure that assets are properly ensured, and that the proceeds will go to the correct place. Have the fire, homeowners, and personal property insurance policies been endorsed to the trust?
Take Necessary Action
An estate planning attorney can help you sort through the different options to assuming the position as Successor Trustee. He or she can then prepare the necessary documents you'll need to present to banks, brokers, insurance agents, and others. Ensure that mail will be handled appropriately, and not lost. Consider having the mail directed to your residence if necessary. Take steps as necessary to preserve the estate. You’ll want to guard against “beneficiary raids” by securing the property and taking an inventory of items. Something as simple as walking around with a video camera can be of great assistance.
Remember, when you step in as the agent under a Durable Power of Attorney, or Successor Trustee, you owe a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the trust. If you breach that duty, you could be held personally liable for any loss that you’ve caused. Remember, you’re in this position because someone trusted to you carry out their wishes.