Caregivers tend to be so over-scheduled that they put off making preparations for a rainy day, like getting legal documents in place. When you feel as if your to-do list gets longer every day, planning for a potential future emergency can take a back seat to juggling your day job, your children, and taking care of your aging relative.
Things will only get worse if a crisis happens and you don’t have the documents in place you’ll need to handle your loved one’s healthcare, financial and legal matters when he cannot. You can approach the tasks by breaking them down into small steps. Here are some tips on how caregivers can “fix the roof while the sun is shining” – prepare before the crisis.
Communicate with Your Loved One
Before you can go to the lawyer and get documents drafted, you need to know what your aging relative’s wishes are. Find out if she has already made any arrangements or signed legal documents. You might not need to do as much as you think. Make sure these documents are not in a safe deposit box, since you will need a court order to open the box after your relative dies if you are not authorized on the account.
Gather all the existing legal papers and go through them with your loved one to see if the documents need to be updated or changed. People often make a Will, for example, and stick it in a drawer. Thirty years later, when the Will gets dusted off for probate court, you discover that none of the beneficiaries of the Will is still alive.
Here are some of the topics you might want to discuss with your relative:
- Who should make his medical and financial decisions, if he cannot do so. These might be two different people.
- End-of-life decisions about hospice, life support, and organ donation.
- What funeral and burial arrangements he would like, if he does not have a pre-paid plan and burial plot.
- The organization to which he would like donations sent, in lieu of flowers, if that is his preference.
- How he wants his property distributed after death.
Getting the Legal Documents
Once you have compiled all the information and old papers, you and your relative should talk with a lawyer to get documents drafted. Depending on the situation, your loved one might need some or all of these legal papers:
- Durable power of attorney for financial decisions, to appoint someone to act on his behalf, if he becomes unable to do so.
- Durable power of attorney for health care decisions, so the named person can make medical decisions, if he becomes incapacitated.
- HIPAA medical records release, so the person who makes the medical decisions can have access to his medical records to make informed decisions.
- Will or living trust, to distribute his assets when he dies.
- Depending on his wishes, you might need a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR), health care directive with specific instructions about particular types of life support, or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). Your elder law attorney can guide you toward the correct form for your state.
Once you take these measures, you can relax and enjoy the time you spend with your loved one, knowing you are well-prepared for whatever the future brings.
Your state might have different regulations than the general law of this article. You should talk with an elder law attorney near you.
AARP. “Legal Preparations for Caregiving.” (accessed July 16, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/info-2017/legal-preparations-ag.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-LEG-EOA1
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