"The ultimate goal is to make sure you have all the decision-making rights you need to manage your loved one's affairs," advises Charles Sabatino, director of the American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging.
Sabatino has six tips on how to protect your relative's legal rights — and your own.
Have the right documents
In addition to a will, make sure your loved one has a health care power of attorney (POA) as well as a power of attorney for financial decisions. These legal documents will allow an appointed person to make decisions for a frail or incapacitated relative.
Your loved one needs to create these documents when he or she is still capable of making decisions. It's not necessary to hire an attorney to draft a health care POA (though depending on your state, you may need two witnesses.) But it's best to use a lawyer to draw up a financial power of attorney because money issues can be complicated.
The health care POA should spell out your loved one's wishes, such as when life-sustaining treatment should be stopped (also known as a living will). You can find free advance directives forms and instructions on what to do in your state on the AARP Caregiving Resource Center.
See also the American Bar Association's site (pdf), which has a tool kit for health care planning.
Make a family plan
Discuss caregiving matters with all involved members of your family. Have your loved one put in writing who will be responsible for which caregiving roles — and have all parties sign. This is not a legal document, but it will help keep peace within the family by making everyone's role clear. Sabatino says the biggest precursor of legal problems is bad communication.
Next page: Organize important papers. »