There are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers. Caregiving is universal.
– Rosalynn Carter, Former First Lady of the United States
One day, the older adult in your life won’t be able to manage their own affairs and will rely on you to act in their best interests as their caregiver.
Forty million Americans are providing care for an adult family member or friend, yet few of these identify themselves as caregivers. Often, the things that define being a caregiver, such as helping a parent purchase or organize their medications or taking a friend to their doctor’s appointments, just seem like doing what needs to be done when someone needs help.
As a caregiver, you are responsible for taking care of your elderly loved one. This includes helping with daily living activities, such as eating, bathing, dressing and doing household chores.
Planning and getting the estate squared away before a crisis allows your older adult and your family to stay in control of critical decisions. This includes important legal documents. The downside to not having proper legal paperwork in place is being forced to allow lawyers and courts to get involved in family matters.
But caregivers should also be sure to have in place legal documents important to the lifelong care of their senior. Having access to them will help make caregiving easier.
Elder Advisers has access to the necessary resources to navigate and answer what questions you may have about your loved one’s health and wealth needs.
When an emergency arises, a caregiver needs to know where to get these important legal documents so he can do his job. What important documents are needed?
Power of Attorney (POA)
There are two components to the POA that are needed, financial and health care. The financial POA allows a family caregiver to manage a loved one’s finances, including having access to bank accounts, properties and other assets. This takes effect when a loved one becomes incapacitated and no longer able to make important financial decisions.
The health care POA allows a representative to make decisions regarding health care, including choosing health care providers, medical treatment and end-of-life decisions. The agent must act consistently with your desires as stated in the document.
Living Will or Advance Directive
These documents tells your doctor what health care you want and will only be used if you get too sick to make decisions. This also covers what life-support procedures they wouldn’t like to have. The living will is used when a person isn’t able to make their wishes known on their own.
This allows a person to create a trust and appoint someone (a trustee) to manage the trust assets when they aren’t able to manage their finances.
A will is one of the most important legal documents that caregivers should have. It should lay out exactly what the person wants to do with his or her property, including how and when assets will be distributed among heirs.
It’s not enough to merely have these legal documents; they need to be accessible. It’s recommended to add the documents to a master folder or box. The folder should be kept in a safe place, such as a file cabinet or a fire-proof safe.
Going paperless is another option for having easy access to documents. You can scan them onto your computer, name them accordingly, and store them using an external hard drive or cloud storage service. This way, you can send documents with ease when required. Keep in mind, a digital copy will not always work, as some documents must be presented in physical form.
There are other documents a caregiver may need access to. You may not need them for the middle-of-the-night-ER-trip but it’s a good idea to at least know where they are kept. These documents include:
- Birth certificate
- Marriage license
- Divorce decree (if applicable)
- Citizenship paperwork (if applicable)
- Death certificate of a spouse or parent
- Deed(s) to property
- Insurance policies
- Pension benefits
One more thing: it’s a great idea to have an updated medication list. Never assume hospitals and doctors’ offices have fully updated medication lists. Have one handy.
What happens if you don’t plan? The easy answer is things get complicated.
If there’s no planning, family members must ask a court to appoint a conservator or guardian. A conservatorship can be difficult for families because almost every action or decision on behalf of your older adult must be court supervised and approved.