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Looking after our parents – Why a Will isn’t enough

For many years I believed my parents were invincible. I would never have dreamt of interfering in their lives in any way, but one day I followed a gut instinct, and, on reflection, I have realised that this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I still remember how tense and uncomfortable I felt the day my family met with Peter Rusbourne to organise Wills, Powers of Attorney and Enduring Guardianships for my parents. Mum and Dad were fiercely independent and intelligent people, and maintained good health into their seventies. I had literally dragged them in to sort out their legal affairs, as years working at Watkins Tapsell had alerted me to the importance of having an up-to-date Will.

Peter explained that a Will dealt with the distribution of your estate after death, but a Power of Attorney allows an ‘attorney’ to look after your financial affairs if you lose capacity, and an Enduring Guardianship allows a ‘guardian’ to make medical decisions on your behalf. After much deliberation, the documents were signed.

Within 12 months Dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia and his health declined rapidly. Only months after Dad’s diagnosis, Mum suffered a series of seizures and six months later was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Both conditions affected my parents profoundly, and they lost physical and mental capacity and were eventually placed into nursing homes.

As you can imagine, this period in our lives was devastating. The role of parent and child slowly reversed, and my sisters and I were now caring for our parents, looking after their financial affairs and making all of their medical decisions.

At one point, Mum was hospitalised and we were told that she couldn’t return home. We were given the names of three high care nursing homes and were allowed 24 hours to make a choice. The first two homes we visited were horrific, so we chose the third, which was in a convenient location, but was far from inviting.

Acting as advocate for elderly parents with serious health issues is a confronting and all-consuming role. The nursing home wanted to use restraints on mum to prevent her from falling. I stepped in and refused to allow this. Visiting daily, I had watched distressed residents strapped to their chairs unsupervised for hours, unable to get to the bathroom. Legally, I was entitled to make these decisions on Mum’s behalf as her guardian. It was a happy day when Mum was finally transferred to John Paul Village at Heathcote, to be with Dad until he passed away. Watkins Tapsell offers an Advanced Care Plan where specific decisions for palliative care can be made while the person is still well. This relieves the family of the burden of making these difficult decisions.

Mum passed away in February and as I look back over her final years, I am so grateful that we made that appointment to see Peter. The legal documents allowed my sisters and I to look after our parents as only family can. Acting as guardian, attorney and advocate for my parents was invaluable to me as a daughter, and allowed me to care for them when they really needed me.

When I hear friends say their parents are growing old, losing their memory, and beginning to get ill, my first question is: “Do they have a Will, Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship?”

My advice to everyone is – don’t put it off. If you wait until your parents become ill, it may be too late. The monetary cost is so small compared with the peace of mind and quality of life gained, and, as I sadly learnt, you just never know what the future holds.

For further information, contact our Wills, Power of Attorney & Enduring Guardianship Team.