Legal Issues of Caregiving

Besides taking care of your loved one's physical needs, you may also need to help them make decisions about money. With some planning, the two of you can make the process run smoothly.

This transition is never easy. However, planning allows people with a long-term disease and their families to make decisions together for what may come.

Your first step is to make sure you've got the legal documents you need to let you act in your loved one's best interests. An attorney who specializes in elder law can give you advice that's tailored to your situation.

If you cannot afford an attorney, legal forms can be accessed through resources including books and the internet. Legal issues may be discussed with a social worker or clergy free of charge.

Clearly written legal documents that outline your loved one's wishes and decisions are essential for caregivers. These documents can authorize another person to make health care and financial decisions, including plans for long-term care. If the person being cared for has the legal capacity -- the level of mental functioning necessary to sign official documents -- they should actively participate in legal planning.

Power of attorney. This document lets your loved one give you the authority to make legal decisions when they are no longer capable of making them on their own.

There is no standard power of attorney. Each one is geared toward a person's specific situation. Make sure you understand all the terms of this document because it spells out exactly what authority you do and don't have.

Durable power of attorney for health care. You may also hear this called a "health care proxy." It lets you make all decisions about your loved one's health care. For example, you'll be allowed to choose doctors, medical treatments, and make end-of-life decisions. But this document only goes into effect if your loved one is no longer able to make the decisions for themselves.

Living will. This lets your loved one say in advance what kind of medical care they would like to get -- and if they want life-support procedures. It's used if your loved one becomes terminally ill and is unable to make their wishes known. A terminal illness means your loved one's doctor believes there's no chance of recovery.

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Living wills can also be used if your loved one becomes permanently unconscious. Two doctors need to state that your loved one has no reasonable chance of regaining consciousness or the ability to make decisions. Laws on living wills vary from state to state.

Living trust. This lets you create a trust and appoint someone to carefully invest and manage money after your loved one is no longer able to do this on their own.

Will. This document lists the people who will inherit your loved one's money and property. It also names the "executor" of the will -- the person who makes sure their estate is distributed correctly.

Guardian/conservator. If you're legally appointed your loved one's "guardian" or "conservator," you're given the authority to make decisions over things like where they live, what kind of care and medical treatment they should get, and also the right to manage their financial affairs. An attorney can give you advice about when this might be needed.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 15, 2021

Sources

SOURCES: 

Cleveland Clinic.

Family Caregiver Alliance.

MIT Workplace Center.

National Caregivers Library.

American Heart Association: "Planning Ahead: Advanced Heart Failure."

American Brain Tumor Association: "Advanced Care Planning."

Family Caregiver Alliance: "End-of-life Choices: Feeding Tubes and Ventilators."

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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