Elders need to be watchful, even about those who love us

Colby Parks

Tragically, the most senior and respected members of our community, our parents and grandparents, occasionally even great-grandparents, are the victims of exploitation by the most unseemly of suspects: their children.

Amazingly, family members often sue senior relatives out of greed or fear of losing “their inheritance,” and seek a court’s order to take away their relative’s most important civil rights: their right to vote, control their own affairs, make their own decisions, associate with people of their own choosing, even the right to make their own Last Will and Testament.  In elder law, we refer to these matters as “guardianship cases”.  A guardianship case is nothing less than a lawsuit seeking to deny a person their rights.  Regardless of age, we all should take appropriate measures, through effective estate planning, to avoid a guardianship case if at all possible.

There are many sad occasions when a guardianship is necessary.  For example, if a person suffers  a stroke and becomes unable to manage their affairs (in the absence of prior estate planning), a guardianship may be necessary.  Should an adult develop Alzheimer’s (again, in the absence of prior estate planning) then a guardianship may be necessary, so that appropriate decisions, and accountability for those decisions, may be acted upon.  Still, as noted, with prior and effective estate planning, a guardianship case and its inherent costs –which can easily exceed $5,000–and the corresponding loss of independence, can be avoided.

One of the most effective, non-legal planning tools, is frequent and open family communication.  Adult children and their parents and/or grandparents, etc., have to discuss family matters as we grow old together.  Many of us who practice in this area have had to deal with children who call a lawyer before they talk to their mother or grandfather.  Such action is tantamount to starting a railroad engine moving down the track with virtually no mechanism to stop the train.
In addition to open and honest channels of family dialogue, we should utilize durable powers of attorney, trusts, and health care directives to establish the who, what, and when of determining how we control our own lives.

A. Colby Parks is an attorney specializing in elder law in Tacoma, Washington. Please consult a qualified estate planner before creating a will.