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Guardian role not something to be left to chance

According to one estimate, set by an AARP survey in 2009, more than 42 million Americans provide family care for an adult family member who needs help with every day activities. Another 61 million provide some level of care to an elder family member at least some time during any given year. New Jersey residents are not immune. For many, it is a role that is thrust upon them without warning.

Legal experts nationwide recognize that one of the big reasons these issues pop up suddenly is because many aging parents don't have even a basic estate plan. They may have wills, but they lack other essential documents of guardianship; power of attorney, which assigns someone to handle financial matters; a health care proxy whose role is to make necessary medical decisions; and living wills that relieve loved ones of hard end-of-life decisions by putting one's wishes in writing.

The advance care directive is perhaps the most crucial. Without it, the family of an impaired loved one may find itself stranded not knowing where to turn. Having the care conversation can be hard. Parents may hold to a convention against burdening the children. Or they may suspect their children are just out to get their money. If there are a large number of siblings, outright battles over decisions can result.

The takeaway from all this is that families facing issues of elder care should know that there are resources to turn to for help and guidance. There is the AARP, of course. Elder-law attorneys, financial planners and geriatric care managers can be tapped. The important thing is to get the necessary help on how to start and have a comprehensive conversation on guardianship and other issues.

Source: USA Today, "Caring for elderly parents catches many unprepared," Christine Dugas, March 26, 2012

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