Caregiver Help

Legal Documents and Care Plans

As caregivers, we cannot assume that we always will be able to provide care. Even if we are able to be active caregivers, it is important to establish both emergency and long-term alternative care plans for our older relative or friend, and to make sure that the necessary legal documents are in place.

Every adult should have at least a power of attorney, a living will or medical directive, and a will or trust in place so that his or her wishes can be followed. If your older family member does not have these legal directives, you both should consult an attorney and have the appropriate documents drawn up.

When making alternative long-term care arrangements, you will want to discuss the matter with your care receiver, if at all possible, and follow their wishes about the person(s) or facility that would care for them if you were unable to do so. If your care receiver wants to live with another family member or friend, you will, of course, want to discuss this arrangement with the proposed caregiver to ensure that it is agreeable.

If your relative can make informed choices about an alternate caregiver, living arrangement, and other matters, it will be easier to make long-term plans if you have a power of attorney.

If your older relative or friend cannot make informed choices it may be necessary to seek appointment as a conservator and/or guardian. This requires an appointment from the court to act on your care receiver’s behalf regarding matters of care and financial dealings. Whenever possible, discuss your plans for alternative living arrangements or caregiver choice with your older family member or friend and with other close family members as well as the designated caregiver. This will help to avoid opposition in the future that could lead to serious problems.

If you are the only possible informal caregiver, you and/or your relative can appoint a trusted friend or perhaps a committee composed of several friends to oversee your relative’s care. You may also decide that it is best to have a lawyer act as your care receiver’s representative.

Once you have decided on an alternate caregiver, it will be necessary to ensure that they, too, have the legal power needed to make decisions, should your care receiver be unable to do so. You should ensure that both you and your care receiver have completed medical directives, living wills and estate wills and/or trusts established, if there are financial resources available for your care receiver.

In choosing a long-term care housing arrangement, it is a good idea to select one that can provide varying levels of care so that your care receiver will not be forced to move if his or her medical condition changes.

Short-term emergencies don’t require the same amount of legal planning, but they must be considered. If you are unable to look after your care receiver, you will need to make arrangements with:

  • a relative or friend,
  • a facility that provides short-term respite care (many nursing homes and assisted living facilities offer such care),
  • a home care agency, or
  • a geriatric care manager.

Remember that home care agencies often cannot provide services on short notice, and that you may need to have more than one family member or friend as a backup person.