Often the surviving parent, as well as children and other family members, need time to cope with the loss recently experienced prior to making significant life changes.
Changes that are made in the heat of a crisis, may not always be in everyone’s best interest. This is especially true, when there are a lot of emotions to be processed and lots of logistical tasks to address. Unless there is a true medical or emotional crisis with the surviving spouse, time after a loss is best spent dealing with the feelings of grief and loss and planning for the future of the surviving spouse.
Therefore, this is a good time to review legal and financial plans and to learn in which areas someone needs to step in to fill the gap(s) left by the deceased parent.
Legal and Financial Planning – Things to Review, Activate or Get in Place:
1) Is there a Power of Attorney (POA) or successor POA for finances? This will be important if the remaining spouse cannot or does not wish to make decisions about investments, banking, bill paying or cash flow issues.
2) Because elders are often the victims of financial exploitation it is important to assure the preservation of assets. Here are some suggestions:
- a) Separate the local checking and/or savings account from investment accounts;
b) Create a budget, so that it is clear what the usual and customary costs are for running the household and meeting personal needs. Spending should be tracked to assure that funds are not misappropriated;
c) Limit the number and type of credit cards that are available. Sometimes a pre-paid debit card is safer and will assure limited losses if there is exploitation;
d) Create a pictorial and descriptive inventory of valuables in the home, especially if there will be paid caregivers, neighbors, rehabilitation professionals and other providers in the home;
e) Remove expensive or sentimental jewelry from the home;
f) Arrange for automatic payment of routine expenses, such as mortgages, homeowner or condo fees, rent, utilities, medications, etc.
g) Arrange for direct deposit of Social Security benefits, pension checks, disability payments and any other routine sources of income.
h) Pay attention to solicitations for donations. If a person has been generous their name is often sold to many charities and non-profit organizations. People who have some memory loss may be writing checks in amounts that are not appropriate for them, but they forget that they have given recently or that this is not their preferred organization to support.
3) Is there a Health Care Surrogate or POA for medical decision making? This is the document that enables the medical community to share information and discuss treatment decisions with someone other than the spouse. This document should include the specifics of what the individual would want in the way of care or withholding of care at the end of life. This is often referred to as a “Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)”. While your parent may still be able to make their own decisions, there may be a time because of illness or incapacity that someone who understands their wishes will need to act as their surrogate.
It is essential that the POA/HCS have discussions with the parent about how they would want to be treated (or not) in specific circumstances and at the end of life. Even if you have instructions included in the Healthcare Surrogacy document, a health care institution, such as a hospital may require their own documents to be utilized by the HCS/DPOA at the time of need.
- a) Contrary to the belief of many, the best person to take on this role may not be the eldest child or the one who lives closest. It should be the person who is in the best position to make challenging decisions and the one who will most closely follow the wishes of the parent. Sometimes this person is not even a family member, especially if the family does not have healthy relationships.
4) If there are no pre-paid funeral arrangements, this is a good time to make such plans for the remaining spouse. Plans should include all of the costs that can be included at that time (usually everything except transportation, if a body has to be shipped; opening of the grave; and the cost of clergy/officiate).
5) If the remaining spouse is moving to a new state, it may be necessary to update their legal documents to become consistent with the laws of the new state. This is especially true for Powers of Attorney and Health Care Surrogate designations. There is a great variability between states and the requirements of advanced planning documents.
6) If there are government entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Veteran benefits, it may not be sufficient to have a Durable Power of Attorney. It may become necessary for a family member (other than the surviving spouse) to become the “Representative Payee.” This can be done, by completing the necessary forms online or at the offices of the Social Security Administration or the Veterans’ Affairs office.
While you are updating the legal and financial plans of the surviving spouse, it is also a good idea to be assessing the functional and cognitive capabilities of that individual. To do this, it will be important for family members to spend time with the surviving spouse and pay attention to how they get through their daily routine. This means “being there” for the individual, but not taking over their life, so that you can begin to assess where they are truly independent and capable and in what areas they may need support. Being present, observing and discussing concerns may be the most beneficial way to help during this challenging period.
Do you have an experience with, or question about, “supporting a surviving spouse”? Please share your thoughts with our other followers. Personal experience is often times the best help.