Comedian Tim Conway was hilarious in his comic skits on The Carol Burnett Show in the 1970s. One of his comedy classics featured his ad-libbing and out-of-turn laughter in a famous skit, where he plays a hapless dentist with Harvey Korman as his patient. America loved Tim Conway.
Kiplinger’s recent article, “Choose Agents for Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy Carefully” reports that the 84-year-old Conway was in the headlines recently for vastly different reasons. When he was incapacitated by dementia, his family fought over his care. One of Conway’s daughters from his first marriage and his second wife battled in Los Angeles probate court for his sole conservatorship.
Conway’s case illustrates that as more adults age with blended families in charge of their care, family disputes over decision-making authority are increasing. A person’s second spouse may be listed as health care proxy or the agent under the power of attorney. However, that doesn’t mean the adult children from the first marriage—who may have hard feelings—won’t start a legal challenge. Siblings with different opinions on the costs and quality of care also may want to find a way to take control. This may result in a judge appointing a guardian or revoking a relative’s authority. This can only mean more resentment and more legal bills.
Families can avoid the time and expense of litigation, by attempting mediation of the problem before going to court. A geriatric care manager or a social worker can assess a loved one’s care needs and offer a professional opinion to assist a family looking for a solution. There are also other strategies you can try to avoid a fight.
To begin with, choose carefully when you give a person decision-making power over your finances and your health. It’s best to select a person who’ll try to get you the best care possible and not worry about their inheritance. A child with financial problems might not be the right choice for your financial power of attorney. For seniors living alone, there are of care-management agencies that will act as agents for a fee. However, make certain that you understand the fees and costs involved.
Once you’ve designated an individual as your health care proxy, have a conversation with them about why you selected them. You should be specific about what type of care you want to receive.
You can also guard against a potential battle, by adding terms in your will that say if your children unsuccessfully challenge your choice of agent or health care proxy, they could have their inheritance eliminated or reduced.
Reference: Kiplinger (November 29, 2018) “Choose Agents for Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy Carefully”