Being a family caregiver to your loved one comes with many responsibilities. At the beginning stages, it may just include helping out around the house or staying with them at certain times of the day. But as time goes on, most family caregivers find themselves having to make decisions they were not prepared for.
Your parent or loved one has probably talked about what they’d like after they die. But what about the years before? It’s not pleasant to think about your parent or loved one being unable to care for themselves or being critically ill. But there’s a good chance it will happen. And in order to limit your stress, avoid family conflict, and make sure parent ages and passes away according to their wishes, you need to be prepared.
In this article, we’ll cover important terms you need to know as your parent ages to be able to care for them medically, financially, and legally. With this information, you can start talking to the right people to be sure you and your loved one are covered.
1. Care Plan
A care plan is a form that covers a person’s health conditions and current treatments for their care. The plan can include information about medical conditions, medications, healthcare providers, emergency contacts, and caregiver resources. A care plan is a great document to have if your parent wants to stay in their home as long as possible but will need some outside assistance from either a professional caregiver or a care team. (Learn all about forming a care team in this recent article).
Different people may aid in the development of a care plan. If you work with an agency for in-home care, a care manager will assess your loved one and develop a care plan for the caregiver to follow. If you are the exclusive caregiver for your loved one, you can make this plan yourself or bring in a geriatric care manager to help. Also called “aging life care managers, a geriatric manager is usually a nurse or social worker trained in senior care. They act as private advocates and guides for family members who want to ensure their loved one is in the best hands.
2. Living will
A living will is a written, legal document that spells out medical treatments you would and wouldn’t want to be used to keep you alive. It also lists your preferences for other medical decisions such as organ donation and pain management.
A living will can include DNR/DNI instructions, organ donor wishes, and other plans like a POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) or MOLST (Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment). When your loved one is near the end of their life or critically ill, it’s very helpful to know the specific decisions they want to be made on their behalf, rather than guessing what they might want. You may also want to include your parent’s wishes as it pertains to hospice. Essentially, any medical wishes they have as they age and reach the end of their life.
3. Living trust
A living trust is a legal document explaining how to handle your parents’ finances and assets. Living trusts for elderly parents are often set up to help them manage their money as they become older, or their health is deteriorating. You or someone else in your family will be appointed to manage the trust and beneficiaries will be named to inherit the assets that have been placed.
There are various kinds of trusts, so be sure to consult with your lawyer and financial planner to determine which is right for your family. Remember, a living trust is different than a will. A will only becomes active after your loved one’s death, where a living trust works while they are still living.
4. Power of attorney
Powers of attorney allow elders to empower a trusted person to make decisions about health care and finances on their behalf. It’s important to note that power of attorney can apply to both financial AND medical issues. NOLO.com explains:
“Medical power of attorney – This document — often called a “durable power of attorney for health care” — names a trusted person to make health care decisions for someone who can no longer do so, or simply does not wish to. Depending on the person’s state of residence, the health care representative may be called an agent, attorney-in-fact, health care proxy, health care surrogate, or something similar.
Financial power of attorney – The financial power of attorney you’ll want to help your loved one prepare is called a “durable power of attorney for finances.” This document will let your family member or friend give someone else full authority to handle financial matters. The appointed person is usually called the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact,” though he or she most definitely doesn’t have to be an attorney.
To make it simple, some states combine a durable power of attorney for health care and living will into a single form, commonly called an advance health care directive.” Be sure to talk with a lawyer about what your state requires.
There are many decisions that need to be made as your parent or loved one ages, and he or she may not always be able to make those decisions on their own. The best thing you can do is be prepared for when that time comes. Having a care plan, and looking into a living will, a living trust, and power of attorney are all tools you can use to make sure your parent will have the best care possible, and that their wishes will be carried out.
- Care Plans Help Both Older Adults and Caregivers – CDC
- Setting Up A Living Trust For Elderly Parents – Caring People
- Advance Care Planning: Health Care Directives – National Institute on Aging
- Living wills and advance directives for medical decisions – Mayo Clinic
- Geriatric Care Managers Advocate for Seniors — and Their Caregivers – AARP
- Helping an Elder Make a Power of Attorney – NOLO