If you find yourself in a situation where you and your siblings appear unable to agree on medical treatment or an overall care plan for your parent, what can you do? Are there any practical options that might help? What legal options do you have if a resolution becomes impossible? To help answer some of these questions, let’s look at how to handle disagreements regarding a parent’s medical care.
The Aging Process and Reversing Roles
Throughout your childhood, your parents cared for, supported, and made important decisions for you and your siblings. As an adult you learned to take care of yourself, and your parents continued to take care of their own affairs. At some point, a parent’s health deteriorated. In fact, you are at the point where your roles have been reversed. You and your siblings now need to care for, support, and make decisions for your parent. While you are more than willing to take over your parent’s care, your siblings do not agree with some of the decisions you are making regarding medical care and treatment.
Variations of this theme play out every day. When an elderly patient reaches the point of incapacity, at which he/she cannot make health care decisions, someone else must make them. When the patient’s adult children cannot agree on a plan of care, it obviously creates a problem. How that problem is ultimately resolved will depend, to a great extent, on whether your parent made any plans for the possibility of his/her incapacity.
Did Your Parent Execute an Advance Directive?
If your parent executed the appropriate advance directive, it should resolve the issue once and for all without the need for further action. An advance directive 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. If your parent executed such an advance directive the person named as Agent has the legal authority to make healthcare decisions, resolving any potential conflicts.
What If an Advance Directive Was Not Executed?
If your parent did not execute an advance directive there are some options that may help if your siblings are 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 often a social worker or nurse and who specializes in assessing a senior’s needs and coordinating the care and resources necessary to help them.
Petitioning for Conservatorship
If all else fails, you may need to consider becoming your parent’s legal guardian, known as conservatorship in California. If your parent is truly unable to make his/her own decisions, then someone else needs to have the legal authority to do so for him/her. Petitioning to become your parent’s conservator will give you that authority. Because conservatorship is the most restrictive option, and because your siblings have the right to object to your appointment, you should consider conservatorship an avenue of last resort.
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you have additional questions about how to plan to avoid or minimize disagreement regarding your parent’s care, contact the Sacramento elder law attorneys at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law by calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.