My experiences with my husband’s condition of dementia have given me some things to share about the legal side of caregiving. Being knowledgeable about this area began, or in some cases should have begun, before I became a caregiver.
How Much Do You Know?
I’ve always known it was important to have some knowledge of our financial standing. I knew where our bank accounts were, what credit accounts we had and what our income/expense ratio was like. I even paid a lot of the bills. But most of our financial business had been started in the husband’s name, so ever since his diagnosis, it has been constant work to gain decision making access in all these areas. How many times have I heard the question “What is the primary account holder’s SS#/birthdate/password/pin?” Especially for a spouse or family member who becomes a caregiver, these facts should become part of the records that you keep. You will use them a lot.
Not only was I trying to gain decision making access – that was hard enough – I was also selling a home and moving to another part of the country. Changing addresses with banks and credit companies, getting new residence established, new driver’s license and car insurance, new health insurance and wrapping up our financial life in Florida. My husband was able to help a little but was struggling with his health problems. As a spouse, taking on the role of a caregiver, I had a lot to learn.
And don’t even let me get started on income tax…
Legal Help or DIY?
I know that legal advice is expensive these days but if it can be afforded it is great peace of mind to have an expert do these documents. There are elder attorneys who know how to cover all the bases, especially with government programs that you might want or need to help pay for care. I was especially concerned since my husband had a condition that could possibly require long-term care in the future.
If you are caregiver for a family member, help them understand how important it is to have a will. People usually know this but it is so commonly put off. Even young people who have assets or dependents need to have a will.
We had done simple wills with Legal Zoom years before but knew it was time to get them updated. In our minds, having our affairs clearly identified and our wishes concerning them spelled out in a legal document is a gift to our daughters who will likely survive us. Having a Will, Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, and other legal documents ensure that our wishes will be carried out. So, I ask, do you have a will?
Advanced Health Care Directives
Some documents such as Advanced Health Care Directives, and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (POA) are the next step. Most medical institutions will ask if you have these, which is a clue as to how important they can be, especially for caregivers. Without them, someone other than you will be making decisions for your family member. These documents need to be in place before they are needed, and only come into play when the owner can no longer make decisions for themselves.
How a Caregiver Can Help
To summarize, you as a caregiver should know whether the person you are caring for has these legal documents for themselves. You should encourage them to do so if they don’t. You should know who the people are who have legal power to make medical and financial decisions (being a caregiver doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s you.). And while you are helping someone else, it is a great time to make sure you have done your own work.