The financial burden of caregiving can be extraordinary. According to an AARP survey, family caregivers typically spend more than $7,000 in out-of-pocket-costs per year — and an average of 26 percent of their income on caregiving activities. This does not even include how caregiving can affect a caregiver’s income through lost time at work, reduction of hours, unpaid leave, or losing or leaving a job to take care of a loved one.
One of the most common questions family caregivers ask is: “Can I be paid for taking care of my loved one?” Yes, it is possible to receive payment as a family caregiver to alleviate the financial strain when facing extended caregiving. One option that may work is to set up a personal services contract.
The financial burden of caregiving
I wish I had known about personal services contracts when I was caring for my mom through her battle with cancer. About five months into her diagnosis, she could not walk and could not care for herself at all. I was burned out. Even with some in-home help, her medical needs were becoming too much for me to handle — and she couldn’t be left alone for any period of time. Mom made the decision to investigate a move to a skilled nursing facility, with the goal of eventually walking and returning home.
We paid out of pocket for her nursing home, and it was far more expensive than what was financially comfortable. At the time I was also on unpaid family medical leave and not bringing in the income that my husband and I needed to support ourselves. To top it off, my workplace had made it clear that I would lose my job as soon as my leave expired. A personal services contract would have been a way to use some of my mother’s money to compensate me for caregiving, while also bringing her assets to a level that would qualify her for Medicaid to pay for the nursing home. It would have been a financial and emotional relief for us both.
Medicaid is a government program that covers low- or no-cost care for people who are financially eligible and medically needy — and many people are. Medicaid pays for $1 of every $6 spent on health care in America, and most people who need extended care consider applying for Medicaid at some point. To be financially eligible, the person who needs care can have only minimal income and assets.
A written agreement
A personal services contract (also called a lifetime care contract or family caregiving agreement) is a written employer-employee agreement between care recipient and caregiver. It’s a tool that can help a person qualify for Medicaid while also protecting assets.
The contract has some restrictions and must be done correctly to work. If you start giving away money or paying your caregiver without a contract, you may not qualify for Medicaid when the time comes. Remember that Medicaid has a five-year “lookback” period. Any money you give to your caregiver (or anyone else) before you have a written contract in place can violate the lookback rule. You don’t want to make moves that force the care recipient to pay privately for long-term care or require the caregiver to give back money.