We know taking on the role of caregiver for a loved one is complicated and overwhelming. If you are a family caregiver, you have our support and respect as you navigate the many challenges that you face, and we commend you taking on the responsibility. There is no greater love than to sacrifice yourself and your daily life to help someone who is losing their capacity because of dementia or other aging issues.
You will need different people for the various challenges you and your loved one will face, but as an estate and elder law firm, here are some legal best practices we can offer you during this season of life:
1. Form a Multidisciplinary Team of Professionals to Help You.
You should create a network of relationships with professionals who can offer their expertise and work together to meet different needs that arise. Not only will this ensure you have necessary resources to help you, but it will also create an atmosphere of accountability. Your risk of being taken advantage of by someone who just wants to make money decreases drastically when you have a team of professionals to rely on, vs. just one or two isolated people. For example, we take a collaborative approach by inviting our clients to bring their financial advisors to our meetings, so that the financial advisor knows how we are setting up the mutual client’s legal documents. Trusted professionals such as attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, and care managers can be a crucial part of a dementia patient’s community and a wall of defense against abuse or neglect as they progress.
2. Encourage Your Loved One to Create a Written Incapacity Plan.
If your loved one still has some mental capacity, it is critical that they work with an attorney to create a written incapacity plan so that they have a say in future decisions, and so they give you or another agent power to act for them. At a minimum, this plan should include:
- Advance Medical Directive: A legally binding document that allows your loved one to select which types of medical care and treatment they want when they become too incapacitated to make decisions themselves. In it, they can name you or someone else to be their medical agent and make decisions on their behalf.
- Financial Power of Attorney: A legally binding document in which your loved one can authorize you or someone else to make financial decisions for them.
- Estate Guide and Inventory: A non-legal document you and your loved one can create to give you and their other agents a list of your loved one’s assets and important instructions about their estate that you will need access to as they progress and can no longer tell you that information.
3. Encourage Your Loved One to Create a Written Distribution Plan.
Once they have created their incapacity plan, the next important step is for your loved one to put together their distribution plan. They should work with an estate planning attorney to set up legal documents such as a will or trust to ensure their assets are divided as they wish once they pass. However, for them to legally sign a will in the state of Virginia, they must be competent enough to know what they are doing, so it is important to do this when their cognitive impairment is still in its beginning stages.
4. Keep Records and Involve other People in Your Caregiving.
As a caregiver, it is important that you keep a record of what you are doing financially, medically, and in the day-to-day care of your loved one. This is as much to protect yourself as it is to make sure you are doing the best you can for them. Particularly in families where there is some tension between multiple people who are caring for someone, it is important that you have a record of and can defend the actions you have taken. This way you reduce your risk of being accused of abuse or neglect.
There are Resources for Family Caregivers
Caregiving is an enormous responsibility, but it does not have to overwhelm you. If you are a family caregiver and you need help connecting with people who give you support and resources, call us. We are happy to help you with your legal documents and to recommend other professionals who can offer you their expertise.
Disclaimer: The information you obtain in this post is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. This blog shares general best practices when navigating Virginia or West Virginia law, but you should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.