Like many of my peers these days, I am navigating the challenging world of caregiving for my parents. On top of their physical and emotional needs, I have come up against some legal obstacles in my caregiving journey - for example, durable power of attorney. I’ve come to believe that most physicians and attorneys would recommend designating a patient advocate for health care and financial affairs in case seniors (or anyone, really) become unable to participate in medical treatment and financial decisions for themselves.
There are several online services that can help you accomplish this for a fee, but you can actually do it yourself for free. In fact, the State of Michigan provides help in planning for medical care in the event of loss of decision-making ability through the Office of Services to the Aging (OSA).
Wills, Durable Power of Attorneys (DPA) and Advance Directive documents are as unique as the individuals who create and use them.
For example, my dad’s DPA is very straightforward – it just names me as his patient advocate in the event that he is unable to participate in medical treatment or legal/financial decisions. My mom’s DPA is a bit more complicated since it requires that I have letters from two doctors stating that she is unable to take legal or financial responsibility for herself or make her own medical decisions.
Keep in mind that, like most of us, physicians, nurses and bankers are not legal experts. Understandably, they often are unable or unwilling to move forward with a procedure or transaction when they are not comfortable with an individual doing business or making decisions on behalf of a family member. To address this, I’ve found that having an Attorney Certification letter to verify and validate the DPA and accompanying documentation can ease the transition through a variety of issues. An Attorney Certification letter is the cohesive document certifying that the DPA and doctor’s letters have been reviewed and verified by an attorney, thus validating the DPA. This can take the burden off the physician, nurse, banker, etc. of ensuring that all of the DPA documents are in order. So how can you get this useful Attorney Certification letter? I had our lawyer review the two doctors’ letters and the DPA document. From there, she incorporated her notarized letter into the documentation to serve as the Attorney Certification.
Attorney Certification Letter Saves Time, Money & Aggravation
An example of when this legal documentation came in handy: banking with my mom. I was on her checking account as a co-owner. This worked well when she was able to keep track of her finances and make purchasing decisions with an understanding of the funds available to her. However, as her dementia continued to progress over a period of several months, I became aware of perpetual non-sufficient funds (NSF) charges on the account to the tune of several thousand dollars. When I discussed her health issues and my need to limit her access to the account with our banker, he indicated that the DPA was not enough to keep her from accessing her own account. The bank required a Guardianship be in place. Putting a Guardianship in place is a topic for another post; however, the DPA was still very valuable. With it, the bank was able to change my status on the account from a co-owner to being listed as the DPA. As I understand it, this limits my personal exposure to any potentially negative financial obligations my mom incurs as a result of her account management (I won’t be on the hook for her accidental NSF penalties).
The Attorney Certification of the DPA and accompanying documentation were also a necessity when it came time to sell my mom’s car (unfortunately, against her wishes). My mom’s doctor had been telling her to stop driving for years – and for years, she drove anyway. This was a danger to her and to others on the road, so I finally took the steps needed to keep her from getting behind the wheel. At the request of her doctor, my mom was required to schedule a driving test. Her doctor actually wrote a prescription for a driving test to be administered by the Michigan Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In order to keep her license, my mom needed to pass the written and driving portions. Unsurprisingly, my mom never even got to the road test as she couldn’t reason through the written portion. She failed the test and had her license revoked. This may sound harsh, so please don’t get me wrong - I’m all for keeping my mom and others safe on the road, but watching her fail her test was heartbreaking. It marked a turning point in my mom’s health and made all the changes going on with her even more real.
Selling a Car
My mom has always been a difficult person to deal with, but the dementia has made this issue worse. She assured me on the ride home from her failed driving test that, regardless of losing her driver’s license, she would drive. She reiterated that, “I only go to the grocery store a mile away!” Joe, the gentleman who administered the test for my mom, had explained that if she was pulled over by a police officer now that her license was revoked, she would be immediately taken to jail, required to post bond, and appear in court at a future date. At the court hearing, a heavy financial fine would be set and a misdemeanor registered. My mom’s response to these possible penalties was, “No worries, I’ll just drive carefully.”
I decided then and there to take her car home with me when I dropped her off that afternoon. Later that evening, I received a phone call from the police. The officer asked if I had my mom’s car and said that she was accusing me of stealing it. I explained the outcome of Mom’s test earlier that day and the circumstances surrounding my decision to take her car. I also indicated that I would be happy to provide the Attorney Certification of the DPA naming me as her advocate. The officer checked her driver’s license and saw that the corner had been clipped off, which is an indication of a revoked license. He then understood and the situation was diffused.
Several days later I sold my mom’s car to my grandson. The State of Michigan required documentation which would allow me to act on her behalf for this transaction.
The Attorney Certification of the DPA proved my legal ability to process the title transfer without my mom’s signature.
Your challenges and journey as a caregiver may be totally different from mine, but I know that all of this legal documentation was very helpful – especially when my mom was resistant to change…and to me. I’ve included the following links to a few example files as described above. I hope they provide you with a general example of the documents you may need to acquire as a caregiver for your loved ones.
When I need to present this packet to a financial institution or hospital/doctor, it consists of the DPA, doctors’ letters, and Attorney Certification and serves as a certified document, enabling me as the DPA to get issues settled without complications of validity.
NOTE: Please note that the information is the expressed opinion of the individual contributing author and not that of Residential Home Health. This information is not intended to be used as legal advice.
Gale Adams is the primary caregiver for her mother, father and mother-in-law. As a working dental hygienist, she struggles to juggle her schedule with the daily living needs and constant stream of doctor visits required by each of her parents. With one parent living in her home, one in an assisted living facility, and one struggling to maintain her independence in her own apartment, Gale has a unique perspective on the challenges of caregiving. Gale hopes that by sharing certain resources, experiences and solutions, she can help others through various obstacles they may face as caregivers.