Noel Whittaker
Noel Whittaker

Looking after affairs of ageing parents is legal minefield

BABY boomers don't just face the challenge of building an investment portfolio that will last as long as they do - they also have the problem of looking after the affairs of their ageing parents.  Unfortunately it's becoming a legal minefield.

An Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) is a vital document because it gives trusted family members the ability to make transactions on behalf of older relatives who have become unable to do it themselves.  But this is not enough.  I have never met a single client who did not express a wish that they would like to live as long as they were healthy, but under no circumstances were to be kept alive if they had deteriorated to a level where life had become unbearable.

The document required to achieve this is an Advance Health Directive (AHD), which sets out exactly what the donor expects to happen if they reach a critical health situation.  In Queensland at least, this document can at the same time also provide for the appointment of an EPA for health decisions.

Often, the EPA is prepared at a relatively young age, whereas the AHD is something that is usually left until the donor is of more advanced years.  Here's the rub - the new EPA which can come into being when signed as part of the AHD automatically revokes the original EPA to the extent that it appointed an attorney to make health care decisions.  This can present problems because the person you wish to make the health decisions may not necessarily be the person you originally appointed in the EPA.

The next challenge arises when the AHD is needed.  Only recently a friend found her terminally ill mother unconscious on the floor of her home.  There is no doubt that the mother's wish was to be left to die, but the AHD was in a safe deposit box at the bank.  In the absence of the document, the medical staff had no option but to revive her and prolong her life even though it was against her express verbal instructions.

The lesson here, is if you are relying on an AHD, it needs to be readily available.

Noel Whittaker is the author of Making Money Made Simple, and numerous other books on personal finance. His advice is general in nature and readers should seek their own professional advice before making any financial decisions. Email: noelwhit@gmail.com.



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