Often families reach out to us because they are frustrated with how to “force” a family member, typically an elderly loved one, into accepting more care. This can be quite a dilemma in that an adult child might have Power of Attorney for his or her elderly parent, but from a health care perspective, this is not a carte blanche avenue to force care on the elderly loved one. Often when I get a phone call from a family member in this position, I talk them through whether they think their loved one has the “capacity” to make his or her own decisions and understand the consequences, even if this means their demise. If it sounds as if the loved one has the capacity, and the person on the phone is the Power of Attorney, if they can convince Mom, Dad, or whomever they are dealing with to accept the care, or frame it in a way that will make them acquiesce, it can be positive. I give them pointers about how to frame their conversation and arguments to make the idea of care more appealing.
On the other hand, if the elderly loved one does not have the capacity to make his or her own decisions and stay safe, healthy, and secure, often I suggest to the family to seek out the counsel of an Elder Law attorney. The Elder Law attorney will walk them through the Guardianship process and discuss whether Guardianship is appropriate in this case. Guardianship, in the states of South Carolina and Georgia, is a mandate by the court stating that the person is not competent to make his or her own decisions regarding care and well-being and someone else must do so for them. Conservatorship (control over the incapacitated person’s money) is typically granted as well. This is because if he or she cannot make smart decisions with money and does not understand the consequences of making inadequate decisions, he or she must have someone protect the monies and the use of them.
Guardianship can be a very difficult, emotional, and heart-wrenching process to often save a loved one’s life. It can also be expensive, and so it must be entered into from a standpoint of education and understanding of what the person pursuing the Guardianship would like to happen for their elderly loved one. There must be an end goal of keeping him or her safe, healthy, and secure, knowing that their loved one very well may not be “happy.” This is typically not a black and white situation, but rather myriads of grey through the whole process. As a Social Worker and an Aging Life Care Manager, I have seen families pursue and be granted Guardianship and truly save their family member’s life and the person goes on to live a very fulfilling one.