As an attorney, I have worked with families for years — decades even. Sometimes families get along, and sometimes they don’t. A recent New Jersey court case illustrates what happens when things go terribly wrong. It also serves as a lesson to plan before you need long-term care.
Let’s make a long story short. The case I’m referring to started when the mother became ill and was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. She had three grown children and her husband was still living.
When she was being discharged from the hospital, the younger brother was in charge of health decisions and was acting as her power of attorney. He informed the out-of-town brother and his sister that he was moving their mother to a nursing home and planned later to move their father there, too.
The older brother disagreed. The sister initially disagreed, but later changed her mind.
The case was not clear as to why the mother or father was not making the decision; let’s assume for our purposes that there must be some cognitive loss.
So they disagreed; it happens. Where did it go from there and why did they end up in court? The brothers began emailing and texting each other. The older brother said that instead of placing the parents in a nursing home, that they should stay in their own home. He felt that his opinion was being ignored.
Then the animosity began. Texts with vulgar language and threats were sent among the siblings until ultimately, the younger brother filed for a restraining order. Sadly, this issue tore the siblings apart.
Thank goodness most cases don’t end this way.
What this New Jersey case points out is that prior to becoming incapacitated, it is important for parents to discuss their estate planning with their children. Who is the power of attorney? Who makes medical decisions? What medical and living decisions do the parents want?
These are never easy discussions, and they can’t solve all family interactions. But I find that personal interaction (not email and text) with all of the family can allow everyone to have their say.
Oftentimes, when done before the fact, and in a civil way, each family member can understand all the issues and put the focus where it belongs — on the parents’ care. While you’re at it, don’t just talk about the issues, but sign financial Powers of Attorney and Health Care Powers of Attorney documents reflecting the parents’ wishes.
We always say there is no one-size-fits-all in estate planning. This case points out, though, that all families can benefit from talking about long-term care before it’s needed and before it comes to fisticuffs and court.
Laurie G. Steiner is a member of the law firm of Solomon, Steiner & Peck, Ltd. She practices in the areas of Elder Law, Medicaid, VA and Disability Planning, and Estate and Trust Planning and Administration.