Partnering our way through happily ever afters and the occasional horror story
By Buckley Fricker, J.D., CMC
Elder Law attorneys focus much of their time on drafting documents to ensure for quality of life through Advance Directives. They also make sure the financial picture is handled according to the client’s needs. From revocable or irrevocable trusts to Power of Attorney documents (POAs) to naming joint or successor agents, Elder Law attorneys can handle all the legal needs of seniors and their families.
Some Elder Law attorneys also act as a variety of agent-types, just like family members of clients. They can serve as Guardians Conservators, POAs, and Trustees (hereafter simply known as “agents”).
Sometimes the client’s family members are available to serve as agents, and do a great job. There are plenty of happily ever afters out there.
Other times, though, there are no suitable family members available, either because there actually are none, or because they aren’t “suitable.”
“Un-suitable” can result in a wide variety of scenarios, some of which are sadly comparable to either dark comedies or horror stories.
Enter the Aging Life Care Manager also known as Care Managers or Geriatric Care Managers (GCMs). Aging Life Care Managers are professional guides and advocates for families who are caring for older relatives or disabled adults. On the national level, these professionals are represented by the Aging Life Care Association.
Elder Law Attorneys Hiring Care Managers
One common joint effort between Care Managers and Elder Law attorneys occurs when the Elder Law attorney is the agent for an individual client. The attorney agent hires and directs the Care Manager to assess the client and come up with a care plan.
Once the attorney approves the care plan, he or she hands the Care Manager the power of implementation. The Care Manager sets off on their gallant horse to ensure the best possible care for the client over sometimes quite treacherous terrain.
Care Managers are often called upon to mediate family feuds, locate the best placement or secure home care for a client. They also make sure that care plans continue to be the best fit over time, as well as change course when needed. They make and attend appointments and procedures. Finally, they are the advocates in all sorts of circumstances: medical, entitlement benefits, social and emotional wellbeing and more.
Planning Ahead for Care Management Needs
A growing trend is for people who are having Estate Planning and Advance Directives drafted by an attorney to include language in anticipation of needing a Care Manager in the event of incapacity. For instance, a Care Manager may be needed if there is an illness or disability that leaves an individual unable to manage his or her own care. Many people realize that their “agent-family-memberin- charge:” a) likely has a job and a family of their own, and b) doesn’t happen to be an expert on elder care.
Planning for the inclusion of a Care Manager’s assistance, if needed in the future, can be accomplished through elder law documents. Some documents can “direct” the agent to hire a Care Manager (meaning the agent pretty much has to hire one), and some documents state the agent “may” hire one. This distinction can have to do, for example, with whether the document is a POA, with “may/ suggest” type language, or a Trust, with “may, direct, or shall type language.”
The estate planning client who may be interested in including Care Management planning should discuss reasons for differences in wording with their attorney. Scenarios where such a discussion may be necessary could include: the Client’s level of confidence in the agent (will they really do what I want them to?), or the client’s confidence in the future care budget (will my funds support making my agent hire a Care Manager, or should I just suggest it)?
The Client-Centric Approach Whether through planning documents to arm the client with tools like Care Management Experts, or by hiring one themselves in their capacity as an agent, Elder Law attorneys can literally save the day. The Aging Life Care Association has a cavalry of Care Managers ready to make that happen.
Thank you to the Aging Life Care Association™ for permission to share this information. You may learn more about Aging Life Care™ at aginglifecare.org.