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.
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.
Power of attorney. This is a document that lets your loved one give you the authority you 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 also what kind of life-support procedures they don't want. 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.
Living wills can also be used if your loved one becomes permanently unconscious. Two doctors need to state that they have no reasonable chance of regaining consciousness or the ability to make decisions. Laws on living wills vary from state to state.
Living trust. This let 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.