Aging is hard on everyone, and there is perhaps nothing more stressful than trying to navigate the long-term living arrangements of your parents or other aging relatives and friends as they grow older and less independent. Whether you’re in the early stages or need to make decisions fast, here is a quick primer on how to legally navigate their living arrangements as they age.
Aging in place: Avoiding probate
If your parents plan to stay in their current residence, you may want to have an open conversation about what will happen to their house after they pass. Most couples own their home as “joint tenants,” which means that if one dies, the other spouse automatically has full ownership of the house. If the surviving spouse dies, transferring the house to an heir or selling it to someone might require going through probate, which can be a lengthy court process. There are ways to avoid probate. A common way is to create a trust and to transfer ownership of the house to the trust.
If your parents know who they want to have control over the property, then they might want to consider a Transfer on Death Deed. A Transfer on Death Deed automatically transfers the property to the chosen recipient and does not require them to go through probate to do it.
- The owner of the property can revoke the deed at any time before their death
- The heirs have zero claims over the property while the current owner is still alive
In other words, it’s a straightforward, flexible document that could save everyone a lot of headaches in the long run. If you know your parents mean for you (or other siblings or heirs) to inherit the property after they pass, you may want to discuss setting up the deed with them.
Avoiding probate will be helpful, but there will still be complicated decisions regarding the home, especially if there are multiple heirs. Your entire family may find it helpful to set up a Power of Attorney document so that everyone knows who will sign legal papers and make final decisions when necessary. You may also want to contact an estate attorney to make sure all the bases are covered.
Moving on, on their own
If your parents are ready to move out and they want to handle the logistics of hiring a REALTOR® on their own, your role may be more supportive. Offer to help them get rid of the decades’ worth of belongings and to clean up the house before listing. Be sure to block off several days surrounding the move to help with the physical, last-minute logistics.
Does the house need professional help? It’s possible that the decluttering is beyond what you can reasonably “KonMari.” In that case, there are junk removal services that will do the work for you by clearing out boxes, appliances, mattresses and any other cumbersome items clogging up storage areas. Check out services like Junk King or 1-800-GOT-JUNK for help.
If they’re moving to a retirement community or another residence with a smaller footprint, some services can help them select important belongings to keep. Senior moving specialists like the folks at Gentle Transitions can pack their belongings up safely and set them up at their new residence so they can immediately move into a place they recognize as home.
Moving on, but in need of aid
If your parents or relatives are ready to move from their home but are unable to handle the logistics, it’s a smart time to set up a Power of Attorney (POA). A POA is a legal document that designates an adult to make decisions on behalf of another adult; these decisions can include financial decisions like selling a property. If the POA is “durable,” the authority to make decisions continue even if your parents are no longer competent to make decisions on their own.
It’s advised that the POA be granted to someone who is close enough to the individual that they can make informed, sensitive decisions about what is best for them. In some cases, the individual’s adult child may be the right choice for a POA and in others, it may be best for the POA to be a more distant relation or a family friend.
These forms must be signed in front of a notary public. It’s critical that the individual requesting the POA is of sound mind to consent; if they are deemed unable to consent, then the POA cannot be put into place.
Once the POA is in place, the newly designated POA can work with the individual to determine:
- A moving timeline
- The right Realtor for the job
- Logistics, including decluttering or using a junk removal service
- Their future residence
If your parents are unable to make decisions on their own
If your parent is not competent and has not given you POA, you can apply to the court for guardianship or conservatorship. If granted, you’ll be able to make decisions about their life and finances, including their property and possessions. This can be a painful and time-consuming process, so it’s best to get POA set up before you need to go down this path.
Need help navigating this tricky path?
For more than 60 years, our agents have helped individuals and families just like yours. We’d be honored to serve you as you work to respectfully transition your parents or other aging relatives. Reach out to Betty Most for more information and resources.
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