Power of attorney and putting a professional into the mix will ease the pressure on families, says Catriona Torrance
If you aren’t part of the sandwich generation yourself, you probably know someone who is. These are people, usually in their late 30s, or their 40s or 50s, who combine responsibility and caring for the younger generation with looking after older family members.
They often juggle this with full or part-time employment, and their own immediate and longer-term financial pressures. Demographics play a big part; people are having children later and Scotland has a growing population aged over 65, with a big rise in over-85s, with attendant health issues. Personal finances are also key with high costs of housing and childcare, worries about whether future pension provisions are adequate, and pressures on the social care system putting more emphasis on care at home.
So, we see examples of parents of young children who are perhaps returning to work, need or would like to earn more money and rebuild careers who are also coping with ageing parents of their own requiring additional support. Parents who thought they would be ‘empty nesters’ by now often have young adult children still living with them or returning home after further education because they cannot afford to rent or buy a place of their own.
With so many balls in the air, it would be easy to drop one. But there are practical ways to help reduce the pressure. First, discuss putting in place a power of attorney. This appoints someone trusted to manage a person’s affairs and make decisions for them if they are unable to do so themselves, or, for financial and administrative matters, if they give consent. This must be done while the person granting the power of attorney is of full mental capacity, in advance of when the power might be needed.
It might be relatively easy to provide practical support with shopping, cooking, cleaning and trips to the doctor, but if you ever need to pay for services, fill in forms for pensions, allowances, benefits, sort out tax returns, arrange care at home packages, discuss medical treatment and so on, you will need to have formal, legal authority.
By the time the granter needs this, it is often too late as they have lost capacity and are not able to sign a power of attorney – in which case, it may be necessary to raise a lengthy court action to have a guardian appointed. If you bear in mind that a power of attorney can be amended or revoked and a new one put in place if circumstances change, it is never too early to sort this out.
As well as putting the supporting role on a formal footing, and providing the required legal documentation to prove it, the process of granting a power of attorney should open up discussions as to who is best-placed and willing to act as attorney, and what the granter’s needs and wishes are.
For example, if the granter has two or more children and would like all of them involved, how will this work in practice? If the child who lives closest is taking on most of the responsibility, talk about what others who live further away can do to ease the pressure.
Emotional support is just as vital as practical assistance, and regular phone calls, messages and emails can be done easily from anywhere in the world and help avoid loneliness and keep the older person feeling involved with the family and outside world.
Much as we often find it uncomfortable, it is important to talk about money. Not knowing whether an older person has sufficient pension or other income, assets and savings for the short and longer-term can add to a stressful situation. If you need to make decisions about downsizing, sheltered accommodation or residential care, it’s much easier if you know in advance what can be afforded.
Tap into other available support services to help with allowances, benefits, care and so on. Balfour+Manson has a dedicated Client Welfare Team with many years of experience offering unrivalled support to elderly or vulnerable adults, and to the family or friends taking on the caring responsibilities. Having a professional on side to guide you all through the maze of bureaucracy, assist with sorting out paperwork at home and provide support with major decisions can ease the pressure significantly.
And once finances and other practicalities are clear, it is easier to focus on emotional support and family time – with all generations.
Catriona Torrance is a solicitor in the Private Client Team at Balfour+Manson