Legal Issues You Face as a Caregiver for a Senior Parent
Being an adult child caregiver for a senior parent can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only do you get to spend more quality time with your loved one, but you also get the satisfaction of knowing that you are providing them with the necessary care they need to remain healthy and safe. However, caring for a senior parent also comes with its own set of challenges. These include legal issues that must be addressed in order to provide them with the best possible care, protection, and security. By way of this article, we discuss a number of legal issues or legal matters you face as a caregiver for your senior parent in this day and age. These are:
- Powers of attorney
- Healthcare power of attorney
- Financial power of attorney
- General knowledge of relevant state laws
- General knowledge of elder abuse issues
- Legal issues surrounding end-of-life matters
Importance of Powers of Attorney
One of the most important legal matters caregivers need to consider is establishing power of attorney for their loved one. Power of attorney allows another person (usually a family member) to make decisions on behalf of their elderly parent in areas such as healthcare, finances, and other legal matters. When assigning this responsibility, it’s important to consider who would make the best decision-maker in each situation. Additionally, given that power of attorney can be easily revoked or transferred, caregivers should ensure they stay up-to-date on any changes in their parent’s wishes.
Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney
A durable healthcare power of attorney, also known as a healthcare proxy or advanced directive, is an important legal instrument for seniors to provide guidance regarding their medical care if they become incapable of making decisions for themselves. This instrument allows seniors to appoint someone of their choosing (known as the “agent”) to have the legal authority to act on their behalf and make decisions about their medical treatment. Typically, if an adult child is the caregiver of a senior parent, that individual will be designated as the agent in a healthcare power of attorney.
The agent appointed by the senior has the legal authority to make decisions only when the senior becomes unable to do so or is incapacitated. Typically, this occurs when a doctor or another healthcare professional has determined that the senior lacks either the physical or mental capacity to make such decisions on their own.
Also, it’s important for seniors and caregivers to review their durable power of attorney for healthcare periodically, especially if there are changes in their medical condition or if any family members are added or removed from their list of agents. This ensures that all parties involved understand the senior’s wishes for medical treatment in case of an emergency situation.
Overall, having a healthcare power of attorney is an essential step for seniors who wish to have control over how their medical needs will be taken care of when they can no longer make decisions on their own behalf. It’s wise for seniors and/or family members to research all available options before choosing a type of advanced directive so that everyone involved will know exactly how the senior wishes his/her health matters handled if necessary.
Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney enables a senior to designate an individual, known as the agent or attorney-in-fact, to make decisions on their behalf regarding financial matters. This instrument grants broad powers to the agent and should be chosen with care. It is important for seniors to understand the limits and risks associated with granting this authority.
Oftentimes, an adult child who provides caregiving assistance to an aging parent will be designated as the agent of attorney-in-fact in a financial power of attorney. In some instances, another family member might be designated to fulfill this role, understanding that a primary caregiver typically has a full plate dealing with assisting a senior parent with activities of daily living and so forth.
It is important to bear in mind that once created, the financial power of attorney gives the agent tremendous access to a senior’s finances. The instrument allows an agent to conduct transactions on behalf of an aging individual (or anyone else, for that matter) without direct authorization from the senior. This includes both day-to-day activities like paying bills, handling investments, applying for benefits programs, or accessing bank statements as well as larger tasks such as selling property or filing taxes. However, it is important for seniors to remember that this document does not grant blind trust. There are still legal parameters within which agents must operate so it is essential that they remain aware of laws and regulations governing financial power of attorney documents in their particular state.
It is also important for seniors to thoroughly consider who they select as their agent when creating a financial power of attorney document since this person will have considerable control over their money and assets should anything happen that prevents them from managing themselves in the future. Seniors should ensure that any chosen agent is trustworthy and reliable.
General Knowledge of Relevant State Laws
Adult child caregivers might also need to obtain a working knowledge of any applicable state laws regarding elderly guardianship and conservatorship agreements. These agreements essentially assign someone else (usually a family member) the right and responsibility to manage an elderly individual’s physical, financial, and medical affairs when they become unable to do so themselves. They are put in place by orders of the court. Guardians have complete control over where their wards live while conservators typically handle all financial matters such as paying bills and managing investments and insurance policies.
General Knowledge of Elder Abuse Issues
Another important issue related to being an elder caregiver is being aware of potential elder abuse or exploitation by people seeking access to an elderly person’s funds or assets. To protect against this scenario, caregivers should familiarize themselves with state laws governing elder abuse or exploitation as well as how best to prevent it from happening in the first place (i.e., setting up financial accounts with two authorized signers). Additionally, if there are concerns that someone could be trying to take advantage of an elderly person’s diminished mental capacity or inability to understand what is going on emotionally or financially, then seeking advice from a lawyer experienced in handling these types of cases may be beneficial before taking action on behalf of the individual being exploited.
Legal Issues Surrounding End-of-Life Matters
Finally, there may come a time when a caregiver faces the difficult end-of-life decisions that need to be made on behalf of an elderly loved one if they become incapacitated due to medical reasons such as Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. In these instances, it is important for caregivers to understand their role when it comes to making these decisions legally binding so that everyone involved is aware of them and respects them upon the individual’s death or incapacity due to illness. Documents such as living wills, health care proxies/durable powers of attorney for healthcare decisions can help shed some light on what an individual wanted to be done in certain situations so that caregivers responsible for making those decisions don’t feel uncertain about how best to proceed during difficult times like these.
Overall being a caregiver for an elderly parent requires understanding many different legal implications surrounding caregiving so that both parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities. It is also recommended that those responsible for making more complex decisions about legal matters seek consultation with lawyers specializing in elder law prior to taking action if needed.