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Basic Questions About Estate Planning – What if my Elderly Parents Need a Guardian?

All of us lose abilities as we age, but for children of elderly parents, knowing what to do, and when to do it, when you think your parents need a guardian can be difficult. No one likes to see their elderly parents get older, but stepping in to do the responsible thing is something many people have to do every year. Today, as a part of our ongoing series on basic questions about estate planning, we will look at what children or loved ones of elderly parents or relatives need to do to make sure the elderly person is properly cared for by an appropriate guardian.

How can you tell when elderly parents need a guardian?

Sometimes it is fairly obvious that an elderly person needs someone else to begin making decisions on his or her behalf. When elderly people are no longer physically or mentally able to care for themselves, the need for a guardian is readily apparent.

However, many situations are not so clear-cut. For example, almost everyone loses some cognitive abilities as they age, and the occasional memory lapse is entirely normal. But what is the difference between the occasional ‘senior moment’ and a more significant problem? Determining when to step in to help an elderly parent often requires the advice of doctors or other professionals who can evaluate the elderly person and determine if he or she needs care.

What do you have to do to be named a guardian of elderly parent?

You cannot simply decide to become an elderly parent’s guardian. You will first have to file a petition with a North Carolina court, ask the court to hold a hearing, and ask it to name a guardian of the elderly person if it determines that person is in need. The process of filing for guardianship can be intimidating, especially if you have never file a petition before, or believe the request could cause difficulty or acrimony in your family.

Though there is no legal requirement that you hire an attorney to file for guardianship, it will always be in your best interests to have a lawyer provide you with legal advice and represent you in any action before a court.

Is there anything elderly parents can do to protect themselves?

Absolutely. As long elderly people are still mentally capable, they can create estate plans that include protections against the possibility that they one day become incapacitated. These protections typically include tools such as powers of attorney, trusts, and medical directives, but they all allow the elderly person to make decisions now about what they want to happen to them in the future. This effectively means that elderly people can choose who will become their guardian should they lose capacity.

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