However, as funny as Conway was on screen, the last few years of his life were tragic. He was incapacitated by dementia, and the family fought over who had the right to make his healthcare decisions. A daughter from his first marriage and his second wife went at it in Los Angeles probate court for his conservatorship, as detailed in a recent article from Kiplinger, “Choose Agents for Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy Carefully.”
Conway’s case illustrates that as more adults age with blended families in charge of their care, family disputes over decision-making authority are increasing. A person’s second spouse may be listed as health care proxy or the agent under the power of attorney. However, that doesn’t mean the adult children from the first marriage—who may have hard feelings—won’t start a legal challenge. Siblings with different opinions on the costs and quality of care also may want to find a way to take control. This may result in a judge appointing a guardian or revoking a relative’s authority. This can only mean more resentment and more legal bills.
Families can avoid the time and expense of litigation, by attempting mediation of the problem before going to court. A geriatric care manager or a social worker can assess a loved one’s care needs and offer a professional opinion to assist a family looking for a solution. There are also other strategies you can try to avoid a fight.
To begin with, choose carefully when you give a person decision-making power over your finances and your health. It’s best to select a person who’ll try to get you the best care possible and not worry about their inheritance. A child with financial problems might not be the right choice for your financial power of attorney. For seniors living alone, there are of care-management agencies that will act as agents for a fee. However, make certain that you understand the fees and costs involved.
Once you’ve designated an individual as your health care proxy, have a conversation with them about why you selected them. You should be specific about what type of care you want to receive.
You can also guard against a potential battle, by adding terms in your will that say if your children unsuccessfully challenge your choice of agent or health care proxy, they could have their inheritance eliminated or reduced.
Every few years, review the documents and confirm that they reflect your wishes. Make clear to family members what your wishes are, and if appropriate, why. If you know that your family relationships are not great, consider writing a letter to explain your decisions for assigning power of attorney and health care proxy choices. If you can leave your family intact, even when you have departed, that may be some comfort to all concerned.
Reference: Kiplinger (November 29, 2018) “Choose Agents for Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy Carefully”