Nobody wants to think about their parents dying. If you’ve been reasonably unscathed by life events by the time you reach 32 like I have – a world without the parental unit is quite frankly, unfathomable. My mum has always been a bit more blasé about it. She’d wander around the house pointing at pictures and saying breezily ‘why don’t you have that when I die?’ I’d respond by screaming and leaving the room immediately.
But things have changed recently. Our granddad died last year at 92. He had been a highly regarded doctor. Doctors you assume, will be quite au fait with the idea of mortality, having seen so many people face up to it. But not so, not really. Mortality is impossible for most people to comprehend and my granddad was no exception. He spoke about getting better even just a few months before he died. Yes, admittedly there was confusion. He had dementia in his final years and was – even when it got impossible to care for him in his big, old house – resolutely against moving to a care home. You could see why – no matter how nice the place was (and it was nice) nobody wants that, do they? But the confusion grew worse. He was expert at hiding it, expert at framing questions so you might just, on a good day, think his memory was sharp as anything. But inevitably, eventually, he would let slip. Something as benign as forgetting what meal it should be next, porridge for dinner and so forth – but on bad days – he thought he was in a house he lived in 50 years ago.
The process of moving him to the care home in the midst of his shifts between clarity and confusion weighed down hard on the family.
A growing problem
For these reasons it was impossible to care for him round the clock at home any longer. In the end, he finally and gently acquiesced. Much to the profound relief of those around him, he seemed far happier in care in the short time before he died than I had seen him in a couple of years. But the process of moving him to the care home and deciding what was best for him in the midst of his shifts between clarity and confusion weighed down hard on my mum and her siblings. While they’d recently gained power of attorney (the legal agreement in place needed to take care of somebody’s affairs) they still had to pick themselves across a variable minefield of financial decisions. And this is a situation I know that is playing out every day across the UK as baby boomers settle into caring for aged parents in a care system that is buckling under the pressure of a population of people living far longer than they ever have before. Between looking after aged parents, caring for their kids and juggling their own working lives, they are pinned to a whiteboard and relentlessly pelted with decisions they need to make about other people. This is why my mum started talking about her death to me and this is why I’ve started listening, instead of leaving the room.
Taking action earlier rather than later
My mum has given me power of attorney at the tender age of 32. This is a legal document made that states exactly who will make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated or mentally incapable of taking charge of your estate or finances. You can name someone to have power of attorney over you as young as 18. Mum wants me to be in charge early, so that, in the event of disaster, I am not wringing my hands in a solicitor’s office over her finances and her wishes.
‘Making those decisions on behalf of someone else, someone you love who can’t make a decision themselves, is so hard. You just don’t know whether you are doing the right thing,’ she said.
My mum has given me power of attorney at the tender age of 32.
But still, I asked her, isn’t it a bit early to be worrying about all of this? My mum and I walked forward slash crawled up Snowden two years ago in lashing rain. She’s immense, she really is.
‘What if I have an accident or I get brain damaged or go mad?’ she asked me. ‘Any number of things could happen. I don’t want you ever to have to agonise over whether to put me into care if I’ve lost my marbles.’
How to grant power of attorney
What Mum’s done makes perfect sense to me. At the same time, I wonder just how many parents my mum’s age, or parents even younger, have thought about granting someone they trust power of attorney yet. I doubt there’s many. I imagine most of the time it is their adult children who rush to sort this out as they watch their elderly parents grow frail and forget what time it is, what day it is, whose house it is. In that case, if power of attorney has not been granted, it can take a very long time through courts to sort out, a process that is usually expensive. The other thing is that people can only set up lasting power of attorney when they are in full mental health.
There are several important things to consider regarding lasting power of attorney. These are covered very well in Money Saving Expert’s guide. Don’t wait until the last possible second to talk to your parents about their wishes. Dementia is on the rise and it is not always the most outspoken guest at the table. It can take years to surface and can disguise itself well. That’s only one of the many reasons we should be talking to our parents about what they want right now.
For more information about how to look after other people, including their financial affairs, go here: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/looking-after-people/managing-affairs-for-someone-else/
For more information about dementia, go here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/