People who step into the role of overseeing care for a loved one living with a chronic disease or illness can experience many emotions. When you factor in the financial and legal aspects of care, stress can add to these emotions and impact the caregiver’s health.

That is why it’s important to have conversations about these matters as early as possible. Taking early steps to address these matters can relieve some uncertainty later and allows your loved one to maintain control of their care by making their desires known. Use these 6 tips from the American Bar Association to help set a strong foundation for important decisions that your family may face.

6 Financial and Legal Steps Every Caregiver Needs to Know 600

  1. Determine who will make financial and healthcare decisions if the time comes. No one ever wants to imagine a time when they may not be in control of their own care, but it is still an important conversation to have just in case – and the earlier the better. By appointing a healthcare agent through power of attorney, your loved one can outline in writing what care they do and do not wish to receive, how finances should be handled, and priorities for how they want to spend the remainder of their life.
  2. If your loved one isn’t able to decide, know how you can get legal access to help. The legal authority to make decisions for a loved one comes in 3 forms, all with different rules for what you can and cannot do:
    • Power of attorney allows you to make financial and healthcare decisions for your loved one.
    • Surrogate laws in many states make a loved one the decision maker for healthcare matters by default.
    • Guardianship or conservatorship can be obtained through the courts – but this should be a last resort option.
  3. Know protections and rights for working caregivers. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to companies with more than 50 employees and allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave so employees can care for a parent, spouse or child. You cannot be fired for using FMLA. There are also certain legal protections that may apply if you feel you are being discriminated against – but you should always check with your human resources department or an attorney to determine if this has occurred.
  4. Consider a personal care agreement. Six in 10 family caregivers also work outside the home, and many make financial sacrifices taking days off, cutting back hours or giving up their role entirely to continue to support a loved one. However, if you leave your job to provide care and your family choose to compensate you for it, it’s a good idea to complete a personal care agreement to outline expectations so you can avoid unnecessary disagreements and stress later.
  5. Be aware of how to manage Social Security and veterans’ benefits. Both the Social Security Administration and Veterans’ Administration require a loved one to be named the representative payee to have checks paid to the caregiver – power of attorney does not apply here.
  6. Understand what health information may be available to you. To see your loved one’s personal health information, they will need to give you written consent or you will need to be appointed as their power of attorney. Healthcare systems must be very careful not to violate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.

There are many legal and financial factors that must be considered as you begin caring for a loved one. If you’re interested in receiving helpful tips about caring for a loved one, healthy aging or navigating healthcare, sign up for The Kindred Spirit newsletter.

By Blair Klayko