Few things are more emotionally trying than watching your aging mother’s physical and/or mental health deteriorate to the point where she can no longer make decisions for herself. If you find yourself in just that situation, someone will have to step in and make health care decision for your mother. What happens if you and your sister (or another sibling) cannot agree on who should make those decisions? What options are available to settle your dispute? A Glastonbury elder law attorney at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. discusses options for settling a dispute between siblings regarding health care treatment for a parent.
The Child becomes the Parent
As your parents age, there may come a point when you begin to realize a subtle role reversal is occurring. The parent who once took care of you now needs you to take care of him/her. If your mother has outlived your father, or he is not in the picture for any other reason, you may reach a point where it becomes necessary for you to make all health care decisions for your mother. While you are more than willing to take over your mother’s care, your sister doesn’t agree with some of the decisions you are making regarding your mother’s medical care and treatment. Where does that leave you?
You Are Not Alone
While you may feel as though you are alone, the reality is that variations of this theme play out every day all across the country. When an elderly patient reaches the point of incapacity, at which he/she cannot make health care decisions, someone else must make those decisions. When the patient’s adult children cannot agree on a plan of care, it can result in costly litigation as well as cause a rift in the family that may never heal. Fortunately, there are options available that may help you resolve the situation before it reaches that point.
Is There an Advance Directive in Place?
The best case scenario would be for your mother to have executed the appropriate advance directive prior to reaching the point of incapacity. In the State of Connecticut, a legal document called an “Appointment of a Health Care Representative” allows someone to appoint an Agent to make decisions for them in the event they are unable to make those decision because of incapacity at some point in the future. An Agent has the authority to do things such as consent, refuse to consent, or withdraw consent to medical treatment on behalf of the person executing the document. Your first step, therefore, when a dispute arises regarding decision making for your mother should be to determine if she executed an Appointment of a Health Care Representative. Most people keep a copy with their estate planning documents. You might also ask your mother’s estate planning attorney and/or her treating physicians or hospitals where she has been treated.
Alternatives to Litigation
If it appears that your mother did not execute an Appointment of a Health Care Representative, there are some options that may help if your sister is willing to participate. You might try counseling with a therapist who specializes in elder issues. You might also all agree to hire a geriatric care manager. This is someone who is often a social worker or nurse and who specialize in assessing a senior’s needs and coordinating the care and resources necessary to help them.
Petitioning for Guardianship
If all else fails, you may need to consider becoming your mother’s legal guardian. If she is truly unable to make her own decisions, then someone else needs to have the legal authority to do so for her. Petitioning to become your mother’s legal guardian will give you that authority. Because guardianship is the most restrictive option, and because your sister has the right to object to your appointment, you should consider guardianship an avenue of last resort. You should also consult with an experienced elder law attorney before making the decision to seek guardianship over your mother.
Contact a Glastonbury Elder Law Attorney
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about the best way to handle disagreements regarding care for an aging parent, contact an experienced Glastonbury elder law attorney at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. by calling (860) 548-1000 to schedule an appointment.