When you're caring for an aging parent or elderly relative, it's important to make sure that he has all of the correct legal documents in place to protect his best interests. This means that in the event he can't speak for himself, his preferences can still be followed when it comes to making medical and financial decisions.

Key Estate Planning Documents

There are several estate planning documents that can be essential to accomplish these goals. These include:

  • Advance health care directive or a living will, which specifies how he would like his medical care handled in the event he is near death and is unable to express his wishes. If your charge has a terminal illness, the experts also recommend working with a physician to fill out a Physician Orders for Life Support Treatment (POLST) form, which translates his wishes into more detailed medical orders about his preferences regarding life-sustaining treatment, or a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR), which directs medical professionals not to intervene in a critical end-of-life situation.  

  • Power of attorney for health care, or a health care proxy, which legally appoints a representative to make his crucial health care decisions when he isn't able to do this for himself. Some people also designate a durable power of attorney, assigning someone to make financial decisions if he is incapacitated. 

  • A last will and testament, which specifies how the person would like his possessions handled when he dies. A will usually designates an executor, which is the person in charge of making sure that the division of property is handled properly. 

  • A letter of instruction, which isn't a formal legal document, but can be one more way that a person can specify who should get certain property. It also lists important contacts and phone numbers that can be helpful after his death.

Getting the Right Estate Planning Documents

When assisting your aging parents or other elderly charge with estate planning, it's always a good idea to meet with an attorney who handles elder issues in order to make sure that these documents will be comprehensive and legally binding. You can also do a search online for standard forms that can be filled out to formally designate the person's wishes. Just be aware that the laws can vary from state to state so you'll need to make sure that any legal documents are applicable for your location.

Estate Planning for All Ages

While estate planning is crucial for older folks, also remember that people at any age can benefit from protecting their health decisions, property, and financial assets. Therefore, when working with your aging parents on advance directives and other legal paperwork, you should also consider formalizing your own legal documents at the same time so that in the event you experience illness or a serious accident, your best interests will also be protected.



AARP.doc. "Legal Documents Every Boomer Woman Needs for Long-Term Care, Wills." Oct. 2010. Web. 10 June 2012.

Jewish Home Lifecare. "Elder and Caregiver Support: What Legal Documents Should One Have in Place as One Ages?" N.D. Web. 10 June 2012.

Washington State Department of Health and Human Services. "Legal Planning." 6 June 2012. Web. 10 June 2012.