Elder law attorneys often work with families and caregivers of elderly clients in estate planning, obtaining veterans’ benefits, and in Medicaid planning. While so much of the legal work is focused on the elderly client, this checklist streamlines some legal options for caregivers.
- Locate any estate-planning documents of the loved one: The best estate planning anyone can do is to obtain a power of attorney and estate plan documents well before these are needed. These “pre-planning” documents have proven to be vital for caregivers when a loved one is later deemed to be incapable of making decisions. Ensure the power of attorney is recorded with the county register of deeds. Without a power of attorney in place, if a loved one is later deemed incompetent, caregivers often have no other recourse than to seek a more expensive and time-intensive court-appointed guardianship.
- Get access to medical information: A healthcare power of attorney or a HIPAA authorization form will streamline caregivers’ access to medical information. If a caregiver is authorized for HIPAA purposes, medical institutions will permit access to medical information and records. Without one of these documents, caregivers often face steep challenges in gaining access to their loved ones’ medical records.
- Veterans’ benefits: If a loved one served as an active duty member of the military, he or she may be eligible for veteran’s benefits. Ask an elder law attorney for a checklist of documents needed to apply for these benefits on behalf of both veterans and their spouses.
- Medicaid planning: A common myth is that Medicaid is intended for only poor people. However, properly drafted estate planning documents, including providing for sufficient gifting powers in a durable power of attorney, can assist a caregiver in applying for Medicaid benefits for a loved one, while also preserving a loved one’s assets.
- Care contract: Caregivers give up their personal lives to dedicate their time to caring for a loved one. Some caregivers move across the country and give up careers to care for aging loved ones. In certain circumstances, a care contract between a caregiver and their loved one can outline terms and conditions to compensate the caregiver for time and efforts. At the same time, a caregiver should be aware of IRS and Medicaid reasons for declaring this income. In addition, the contracting party should consider procuring workers’ compensation coverage.
- Work with a geriatric care professional: When the time comes to transition a loved one into a nursing facility, seek the assistance of a geriatric care professional. These dedicated workers understand medical conditions and work closely with facilities to find the best placement for loved ones. These workers know the local facilities and can finesse placement in facilities when caregivers often lack the time or ability to place a loved one.
- Seek community resources: More and more organizations are offering resources targeted for caregivers. These organizations include Area Agencies on Aging or the Alzheimer’s Association. Also seek information from a physician’s office or access the Eldercare locator at www.eldercare.gov for other community resources.
While caregiving is often a full-time job, with the right legal tools and direction, a caregiver’s work can seem less daunting.