A document checklist for family caregivers

It is often said the two most guaranteed things in life are death and taxes. As we are in the season of preparing our own personal taxes, it is also a great time to think about important documents and information to have on hand if you find yourself caregiving for a loved one or anticipate being in that role in the future. Not only will you be armed with the tools you need to make important decisions with and for your loved one, you'll be better able to manage their affairs while also juggling their physical needs.

1. Locate and organize important papers. Having your loved one's legal documents together in one place will make life so much easier when you need them in the future. Some examples to gather: birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, citizenship papers, death certificates of spouses, property deeds, car titles, deeds to cemetery plots, military discharge papers, pension benefits, and insurance policies.

2. Ensure your ability to execute decisions on your loved one's behalf or have knowledge of who does. Make sure your loved one has not only created a will but has also documented a health care and financial power attorney (POA). These documents are commonly known as "advance directives." While you are your loved one's primary caregiver, you may not be the health care or financial POA, in which case be sure you have a copy of that paperwork. If you are named as a POA, be sure you have an understanding of what your loved one's wishes are before you find yourself in a crisis.

3. Research cost-saving measures. One surprise family caregivers often face is learning the majority of long-term care costs are out of pocket. Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for a lot of the needs your loved one will have as they decline. Sometimes, an individual may have a life insurance policy that pays an "accelerated death benefit" allowing you to access the funds prior to their death to assist in the last months of their care. Older adults who have no assets beyond the home they live in may want to consider a reverse mortgage to help pay for their care. There also may be some "respite" programs available to provide stipends to family caregivers who need a short-term break to help alleviate caregiver stress and burnout.

Having legal documents prepared and researching cost-saving measures in advance of a crisis will help bring you and the rest of your family peace of mind during a time when the medical and emotional strain of caregiving will feel completely consuming. This sense of order and control can offset situations where you often feel like every hour brings new challenges.

If you are caregiving for a loved one and would like to get connected with others in our community who are walking the same path, join ABC11's Caregivers Corner moderated by Nicole Clagett. The group has 1800+ people supporting one another and sharing wonderful information and resources daily. More helpful tips about this topic can be found on ABC11's Caregivers Corner section.
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