Minding Our Elders: Joint power of attorney complicated this couple’s wishes

Dear Carol: Six months ago, my husband, 83, broke his hip and was admitted to the hospital. That experience took a terrible emotional and mental toll. Eventually, he was released to a local nursing home and things were going well until he developed pneumonia. The nursing home is well-equipped to care for him there, which we both wanted done, but I still alerted his adult children as we’ve agreed to do in a health crisis. Even though my stepkids rarely visit, we share power of attorney, which is set up so that any one of us can make decisions. At first I thought that their arrival would be a comfort, but they took over and effectively negated their father’s health care documents by arranging for him to be sent to the hospital. While my husband’s now back in his room and has recovered somewhat from his ordeal, he’s much weaker and often confused. I’m angry and upset with their heavy-handed takeover. Am I wrong? — FC.

Dear FC: Of course you are angry and upset, and you have a right to be. You’re his wife and you most likely know him best. This is a sad reminder that families who don’t agree on end-of-life measures can cause friction and additional grief at a time when unity should be a primary concern.

As for why your husband’s adult children acted in this heavy-handed manner, I don’t know all of the facts but they may have been dealing with their own feelings of guilt for not being involved in his care and decided to make up for it with this decisive move.

Attorneys who specialize in estate or elder law are the best resource for people when making decisions while setting up powers of attorney, and your husband most likely had such a professional help with his. Yet, estates can get complicated when there are adult children and a second marriage involved — even if the basic relationship has always been good. The attorney’s thinking was likely sound, but no one can foresee each detail in future events.

Had your husband’s pneumonia been treated in the nursing home, the end result likely wouldn’t have been much different, but he would have been spared the extra emotional trauma of hospitalization which is no small thing. If he’s strong enough, he should communicate this to his kids.

Either way, ask his doctor to talk with them. Most physicians would likely agree that nursing homes can handle pneumonia as well as a hospital for someone like your husband, and that it’s a better setting for him. While hard for you, for the sake of your relationship with your stepchildren, I’d suggest a forgive-and-forget approach. What’s done can’t be undone and it won’t help your husband to see you and his children at odds.

You can both hope that his kids listen to him now so that if there is a next time, their response will be to follow your husband’s wishes.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com.