Legal Issues to Discuss with Caree When Stepping In As A Caregiver
Sometimes, when you step in as a caregiver, you jump in as a result of injury or illness and there isn’t time to stop and get organized. It can be hard to decide when to step in as a caregiver and when to have the uncomfortable conversations about your parent’s wishes. Many times, we think we have a lot of time. Even if you think it, and hopefully you’re right, there’s nothing wrong with getting legal caregiving issues out of the way early.
I recently spoke to a neighbor whose mom has lived with her for several years. Up until a few weeks ago, her mom was very active and appeared healthy. In fact, I saw her the week before she was hospitalized and she was telling me she was worried about her daughter because she wasn’t taking care of herself. She looked fine.
Cut to a week later and she was in the hospital being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Her health went downhill very quickly. My neighbor was so frustrated because in all the years her mother had lived with her, they never got around to handling legal issues. What did that mean? It meant that she couldn’t call her mother’s doctor with questions. She also couldn’t make changes to some of her mom’s bills or handle banking issues while mom was in the hospital.
I also have a friend who was caring for a very sick father. Somehow, even with all of the hospitalizations and health scares, they had never stopped to have a conversation about legal and insurance issues surrounding her father’s home. In fact, when her father was hospitalized the final time, she couldn’t locate his DNR (do not resuscitate) before he was taken to the hospital, which complicated issues and caused her great stress.
I’m not sharing these stories to scare you. I’m sharing them to show how easy it is to bypass all of the important legal caregiving issues and just do what needs to be done. The problem is, if your parent becomes too ill or not of sound mind to make an important decision, you may not be able to speak for them. Or, you and your siblings may have conflicting opinions which can lead to stress and conflict. Handling the legal issues early takes away some of the stress that goes with advocating for your aging parent.
Important Caregiving Legal Issues To Handle
If you aren’t even sure where to start when handling legal caregiving issues, here are some important topics you should address with your caree. I’m not a lawyer, so I highly recommend setting up an appointment with a family lawyer and all involved parties to make sure you are making all of the right decisions for your family. You can also check out the toolkit for healthcare planning on the American Bar Association website.
- Living Will: A living will or Healthcare Power of Attorney should spell out your loved one’s wishes, such as when life-sustaining treatment should be stopped.
- Power of Attorney: This document gives a person (caree) an opportunity to authorize an agent (usually a trusted family member or friend) to make legal decisions when he or she is no longer competent. There is no standard Power of Attorney so each one is tailored to a person’s specific needs. Be sure that you and your caree are on the same page about the parameters of the Power of Attorney. You will need to provide copies of the document to businesses and organizations that the Power of Attorney affects.
- Durable Power of Attorney or Healthcare Proxy: This document appoints a person to make all decisions regarding healthcare, including choices regarding provider, treatment and end of life decisions. This means that the Proxy may authorize or refuse medical treatment. This power only goes into effect once the principal is unable to make decisions for him/herself and is activated by the principal’s attending physician.
- Living Trust: This document enables a person to create a trust and appoint a trustee to carefully manage trust assets once the grantor is no longer able to manage finances. A person can choose an individual or financial institution to be the trustee.
- Will: A will is a document created by a person that names an executor to manage the estate and beneficiaries (those who will receive the estate at the time of the person’s death).
And while this isn’t a legal issue, in these times of social media, you probably want to also have access to your parent’s Facebook or Twitter accounts if they are interested in having updates shared with their online community.
While legal issues are not a fun discussion to have with your loved ones, it is critical that you have the discussion before your loved one is ill or unable to make decisions on his/her own. Ideally, the discussion should be had as a family, with all interested parties involved. You never want to be put in the position where a sibling insinuates that a parent was coaxed into making a specific decision.
Unfortunately, when it comes to finances, healthcare and estates, old family issues come up. Rivalries can be renewed, particularly if you and a sibling have differing opinions on a parent’s healthcare or finances.
This is why it is best to have these conversations as a group, while your parent is able to make his/her wishes known. You may even want to bring in a third party to witness the discussion so there are no questions after the fact. If you are at a loss for who to bring in, consider hiring a mediator, geriatric care manager or even a clergy member.
Don’t put off these important legal discussions because you anticipate it won’t go well with your family members. It is worth the hassle now to avoid the conflict when you really need to make important decisions.