If you're a caregiver, part of your job may be to keep track of your loved one's legal affairs. And you probably know — or are learning — that it's a big responsibility.
"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 Commission on Law and Aging at the American Bar Association (ABA).
Sabatino has six tips on how to protect your relative's legal rights — and your own.
1. Have the right documents
In addition to a will, make sure your loved one has a durable power of attorney (POA) for both health care and financial affairs. These legal documents will allow an appointed person to make medical or fiscal 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 power of attorney (though depending on your state, you may need two witnesses), but it's advisable to use a lawyer to draw up a financial POA because money issues can be complicated.
The health care POA is part of an advance directive. The other part is a living will, which spells out your wishes for care if you have a serious illness — for example, whether and when life-sustaining treatment should be stopped.
2. Make a family plan
Discuss caregiving matters with all involved members of your family. 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. The biggest precursor of legal problems is bad communication, Sabatino says.