How to: Caring for the elderly

Introduction

Growing old is one of life's certainties and may raise a number of important legal issues, particularly questions to do with the care of one's parents or parents-in-law.

Am I responsible for looking after my parents?

You have no legal responsibility to support your parents or parents-in-law. The only situation in which this may occur is where parents or parents-in-law have promised to leave you something in their will in return for supporting them in their old age. If this is the case then a contractual obligation may have arisen and can be enforced.

Specifically, you have no legal responsibility to pay your parents' medical bills.

What Government support is available to the elderly?

If an elderly person is over 65 he or she is eligible for New Zealand Superannuation. A person who has not yet reached 65 may possibly claim sickness or other benefits – contact Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) to ask what they can or cannot claim.

The Government also provides a rest home subsidy (the Residential Care Subsidy), which is subject to asset- and income-testing: see How to apply for a rest home subsidy (Residential Care Subsidy).

Do I have any say about where my parents should live?

Elderly people can live anywhere they choose; their children do not have the power to stop them living in a particular place.

An elderly person cannot be forced to move into a rest-home against his or her wishes, unless the court makes a "personal order" under the PROTECTION OF PERSONAL AND PROPERTY RIGHTS ACT 1988 on the ground that he or she is mentally incapable of dealing with his or her own affairs (see "Personal and property orders" below).

Powers of attorney

Along with caring for one's elderly parents comes the responsibility of dealing with any business matters that may arise. It may be necessary for the elderly person in question to give you or some other person a power of attorney to deal with his or her affairs (see How to give a power of attorney). You may be given either:

  • an "ordinary power of attorney", which you can exercise only so long as the elderly person remains mentally capable, or
  • an "enduring power of attorney", which can still be exercised if the person in question becomes mentally incapable

Personal and property orders

If a parent or parent-in-law becomes mentally incapable but has not previously given anyone an enduring power of attorney to deal with his or her affairs (see above), you can apply to the court for it to make various orders to provide for the person's personal welfare and business affairs.

The orders that may be made include appointing a manager for the person's property affairs, and appointing a welfare guardian to deal with the person's personal care and welfare (see How to obtain a personal or property order for someone who is mentally incapable and How to be a welfare guardian).

Cautionary notes
  • If you are unsure about your legal rights and responsibilities in caring for your elderly relatives, you should seek legal advice.


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