Caring for a loved one can involve many things from one end of the spectrum to the other: supervision, feeding, bathing, dressing, help with toileting, bill paying, transportation, medication administration, shopping, errand running, mental stimulation and/or medical treatments such as monitoring of certain blood levels, administration of oxygen, etc are all a part of caregiving.   But there is another side to caregiving.  It involves ensuring that certain needed documents are prepared and always at the ready.   You may become a primary caregiver to a loved one as well as an advocate in legal circumstances. When you begin care, you will need all the correct documentation in order to speak on their behalf.

It can be hectic managing more than one household. Anything you can do to make the tasks easier on yourself is good. When you need some form of documentation, you want to know where it is so you can get your hands on it in a hurry. This simple matter of organizing documents is more important than ever when you are a caregiver to a loved one. It brings peace of mind not only to your loved one, but also to you.

You will want to keep important documents stored safely in a large plastic Ziploc-type bag (simply so that you can grab it and run)  inside a filing cabinent, a small safe, or a safety deposit box. Be sure the documents are in a location that is easy to find by you or other family members. Remember: You will be at your worst when the time comes to find and present these documents, so be sure you know where they are.    Additionally, there are now internet services that provide safe and secure storage of important health, financial and legal information that can be accessed by any family member or designee who is given password permission.  One such provider of this service is Family Care Files.    Here is a short list of the documents you will want to locate. Here is a short list of the documents you will want to locate.     Medical information
In an emergency, you don’t want to be fumbling around for a list of medications or doctor’s numbers. Keep a list of all of this information in a central location for easy reference. List the loved one’s physicians, their allergies, medications, the length of time on medications, insurance information, recent diagnostic studies and their results, etc. Keep this information updated.  You can find an organizational tool HERE.

Other Insurance information
Find the policies for all insurance including medical, home, vehicle, and life. Become familiar with policies so you know how much they are worth and what stipulations there are on payouts. Many people miss out on having insurance pay for certain services for their loved one because they don’t know where the information is. Many insurance companies now offer their policy holders an online version of the policy. Print that out and keep it safe.

Durable Powers of Attorney
This is important when a loved one becomes incapacitated and needs someone to make decisions on their behalf. Even if a person is not incapacitated fully, you may have taken over bill paying or other simple money tasks. You may have been given your loved one’s checkbook to pay bills with or do grocery shopping, but if you don’t have power of attorney, it is illegal to sign that check. Discuss this situation with your attorney.   There are 2 different kinds of Powers of Attorney, one is for legal/financial and one is for healthcare.  In some states, these may be combined into one document and in some states, the durable power of attorney is part of the Advanced directive (which, as I mentioned is sometimes called a Living Will and some physicians do not recognize living wills, so that is why it’s best to have these documents prepared by a lawyer and notorized).   They are called durable because they remain in effect even if your loved one becomes incapacitated (which is when they are probably needed the most).  BUT…..keep in mind that these powers of attorney are easily revokable by your loved one at any time (unless they have been determined incapacitated).

*There is another kind of durable power of attorney called a “Springing DPA” because it “springs into effect” only if the loved one becomes incapacited.

Yes, it’s complicated.

As a caregiver, you should carry copies of your powers of attorney with you at all times.

Last Will and Testament     This is the documentation that tells you where your loved one wants their money, property, and/or goods to go when they pass on. When a person dies without a will, the courts have a specific way of handling things that may not honor their wishes and can delay the ability of the family to disperse the loved one’s remaining assests. Encourage your loved one to make a will if they don’t already have one. There are simple to use formats online that you can fill out, sign and have reviewed by an attorney.  Even a will written on a napkin is better than no will at all.   Under the best circumstances, the last will and testament should be part of a “trust”. In their new book “Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights”,  Danielle and Andrew Mayoras state “Where there’s a will, there’s a way… but there’s a better way. Trusts help people control how, when, where and by whom their money and property should pass when they die.”  And with trusts, there is no probate required. There is when using a will.  Additionally, trusts are not public information, whereas wills are.  So if you are looking to keep your 4th cousin 5 times removed from addressing the court in order to receive what they feel is their right to have, you want to be sure a trust is created.   There are many rules involved in  utilizing a trust correctly but they will make matters much easier when it comes time to use them.  Contact an elder law attorney for further information.  

Advanced Directive
In an advanced directive (sometimes known as a living will), your loved one can stipulate what type of end-of-life medical care or intervention they want or don’t want to receive in the event that they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves.   In this directive, a person is appointed to make the decisions on their behalf.  A durable power of attorney for health care (see below) also gives the decision-making power to a person appointed by the loved one.  The advanced directive and durable powers of attorney for healthcare can be 2 separate documents.  Consult with your elderlaw attorney because the laws regarding this document vary greatly from state to state or province to province.   Protecting your loved one is all a part of taking care of them. Knowing where their pertinent information is can help you to do that. Again, the moment to find these important documents is not when you need them, it’s when you don’t.

And while we’re speaking on this subject, do you have these documents in place for yourself, as well???



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