As the Baby Boomer generation retires and grows older, more and more Americans are serving as unpaid caregivers for their family members. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, about 34.2 million Americans cared for an adults age 50 or older sometime in the last year. The kind of care they provide varies – from errands and housework, to financial support and personal care, like bathing and getting dressed – but no matter the kind of care or who they’re helping, caregivers face significant legal issues they need to be informed about.
If you’re caring for an aging family member, learn what legal issues might be important to you and how you can get help with these legal issues from your legal plan and the help of an experienced attorney.
Making an Estate Plan
If your loved one doesn’t already have an estate plan, the time to get one is now. If something were to happen to the older adults you are caring for, they wouldn’t want you to be mired in probate and legal affairs for years to come. Making an estate plan, even if their assets are quite small, can simplify the process and give them, and you, significant peace of mind. An estate plan doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. With a legal plan like Texas Legal, you can meet with an estate planning attorney and get your will or trust done for free, as well as updated yearly for any changes that need to be made.
Establishing Power of Attorney
If you’re providing regular care for someone in your family, it’s likely that they would want you to be in charge of their affairs in case they were unable to do so themselves, like if they were seriously ill or incapacitated. Your estate planning attorney can establish a Power of Attorney document that spells out who would have the legal authority to make decisions if the person you are caring for is unable to do so.
Creating a Living Will
We all want our wishes to be respected when it comes to our bodies and lives. These choices are intensely personal and involve our spiritual beliefs, practices and preferences. A Living Will spells out under what circumstances you want or would not want medical care to save your life or keep you alive. Knowing that their personal wishes will be respected can give the person you’re caring for a level of confidence and trust in your relationship.
Protecting Them From Scams, Fraud and Elder Abuse
Older people are particularly vulnerable to scams designed to steal their money or give away personal information. Nefarious individuals often target the elderly with romance or other scams, designed to give another person control of the elder’s money and life decisions. Good communication, as well as having paperwork in place and a trusted lawyer to call can really help prevent these situations. Although many people assume that they’re out of luck if they are ripped off by a scam or fraud situation, a good consumer law attorney can help you or your loved one get their money back. In the case of a scam or fraud, you should also contact the Texas State Attorney General’s Office. If you suspect your loved one is being abused or taken advantage of by someone, contact an elder law attorney right away, as well as contacting the police to tell them what you think is going on.
An identity theft program, like AllClearID, is also a good idea for your loved one. These programs monitor a person’s identity for signs of identity theft and send alerts when there’s something wrong. They can also help you fix problems if you are the victim of identity theft. AllClearID is a free service for Texas Legal Members.
If the person you are caring for becomes incapacitated and there is no power of attorney documents in place, you must go through the process of establishing guardianship. This is a much lengthier legal process that requires an application, hearing and several court processes. To obtain guardianship, you definitely need an attorney’s help.
If the person you care for has a life insurance policy, help them file the paperwork to list someone as the beneficiary. This easy process insures that the person they intend receives the money. It’s also a good idea to have them list a beneficiary on their bank accounts, even small ones.
If someone dies without naming a beneficiary on a bank account, family members can’t access the money, and going through the legal system can cost them more than what you have in the account if it is a small amount. Texas Legal attorney Tom O’Leary says he gets many calls from potential clients, hoping to recover money from a relative’s account, finding out that the legal fees would be more than the asset itself.
“I can’t tell you how many times you have somebody coming into the office. Their uncle died and he really didn’t have a lot of assets, but he had $3500 in a bank account,” says O’Leary. “I ask the family if they are named on the account, and when the answer is no, I explain that they’re going to spend $3500 in legal fees to get that $3500.”
Organize Personal Information
After you take the steps to help the person you’re caring for get the legal documents they need, it’s good to organize them. Texas Legal offers a free personal information organizer download that you can print out and fill out for your loved one so that everything is organized.
Consider a Legal Plan
If you already have a legal plan, you might recommend the loved one you’re caring for get one too. It can help them to know they have an attorney when they need it and not delay important tasks like estate planning. It also saves a lot of money on legal fees if an issue arises. Our members tell us they have great peace of mind, knowing that they can call an attorney when a legal issue comes up, and have the expert guidance they deserve without fearing a high cost. A legal plan might be a good answer for you and the person you care for.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s not a legal problem, but caregiving is stressful and time consuming. Make sure you make time to care for yourself. Consider taking a regular day or shift off and hiring a paid caregiver to fill in for you or asking another family member to pitch in. Feeling balanced and taken care of will help you be a better caregiver yourself and strengthen the network of people your loved one has around them. For National Caregiver month, thank you for all you do to take care of the elders in your life. We salute your vital role in our communities and our families!