What a Family Caregiver Needs to Know

What a Family Caregiver Needs to Know
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If you're a caregiver, part of your job may be to keep track of your loved one's legal affairs. You probably know — or are learning — that it's a big responsibility.

AARP’s recent article entitled “A Legal Checklist for Family Caregivers” provides tips on protecting your relative’s legal rights — and your own.

  1. Have the correct documents. In addition to a will, ensure your loved one has a durable power of attorney (POA) for health care and financial affairs. These documents allow an appointed individual to make medical or financial decisions for a frail or incapacitated relative. The health care POA is part of an advance directive. The other part is a living will, which states your wishes for care if you have a serious illness — for example, whether and when life-sustaining treatment should be stopped.
  2. Create a family plan. Talk about caregiving issues with the involved family members. Write down who will be responsible for which caregiving roles — and have everyone sign. It’s not a legal document, but it will help keep peace within the family by making everyone’s role clear.
  3. Organize important papers. Most people don’t know how many legal documents they already have or how many they will need for matters that arise. The important ones include:
  • Birth certificate
  • Citizenship papers
  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree
  • Death certificate of a spouse or parent
  • Military discharge papers
  • Power(s) of attorney
  • Insurance policies
  • Deeds to property
  • Deeds to cemetery plots
  • Pension benefit

Organize these documents into files that are easy to use.

  1. Explore potential financial help. Look into public benefits such as:
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), monthly payments for people unable to work due to a severe medical condition
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a benefit for older, disabled, and blind people with minimal income and assets
  • Medicare and Medicaid
  • Veteran’s benefits, including financial support for caregivers of former service members; and
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps)

Review your loved one’s insurance and retirement plans, including (where applicable) life insurance, disability coverage, pension benefits, long-term care insurance, and workplace health insurance, to see if any cover home health visits, skilled nursing, mental health services, or physical therapy and other short-term assistance.

  1. Look for tax breaks and life insurance bargains. Your family member may be able to claim federal tax deductions for many health care costs, such as:
  • A hospital bed or wheelchair
  • Out-of-pocket expenses not covered by health insurance
  • A home remodel to make it accessible; and
  • Hiring a short-term or part-time home health aide provides respite for the primary caregiver.

Keep your receipts for medical expenses and see if your loved one has a life insurance policy that makes accelerated death payments to help pay for long-term care.

  1. Think beyond your loved one. If a parent dies or cannot care for people who depend on them, you may need to take on additional caregiving roles. This includes assuming responsibility for adult children with special needs. Ensure the child receives all available benefits, like SSDI, local and state disability, special education programs, and transportation assistance.

Reference: AARP (Jan. 21, 2022) “A Legal Checklist for Family Caregivers”