6 Must-Have Legal Documents for Family Caregivers

Medical Documents • HIPAA Authorization • Healthcare POA • Advance Healthcare Directive

Financial Documents • Financial POA • Trust • Will

An elder law attorney can assist with the preparation of these documents, as well as provide valuable guidance to help you plan for the future, given your loved one’s individual situation and preferences.

Having the necessary documents in order before a medical or financial disaster strikes can make an extremely difficult situation just a little bit easier to navigate. Knowing that you’re carrying out your loved one’s wishes, even though they may not be able to voice them, can ease the crushing feelings of guilt and doubt that many caregivers experience in these situations.

Important documents for managing medical care

  • HIPAA Authorization: The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) aims to protect medical record privacy. This law prevents doctors and other medical professionals from discussing an individual’s health information with anyone but that person. Even caregivers can’t access a loved one’s medical records, or talk to their doctor, until they sign a HIPAA form. Fortunately, this document is easy to obtain; most doctor’s offices have copies on hand.
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA): This important legal document allows a person to grant legal authority to a trusted relative (i.e. the family caregiver), or friend, to make health care decisions on their behalf. A person with healthcare POA can determine (among other things) where an elder lives, what they eat, who bathes them, and what medical care they receive. (*see note below)
  • Advance Healthcare Directive: An advance healthcare directive combines a healthcare POA with a living will. A living will outlines how an elder wishes their end-of-life care to be managed (i.e. aggressive medical care versus hospice care), and may also include a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, or instruction not to insert a feeding tube if they become incapable of eating on their own. Learn how to Avoid the Number One Mistake Elders Make With Healthcare Directives.

Important documents for managing finances

  • Financial Power of Attorney (POA): A financial POA gives a trusted relative (i.e. the family caregiver), or friend, the ability to make legally-binding decisions about a person’s financial assets. An individual with financial POA has the authority to manage an elder’s finances, which may include paying bills, liquidating assets to cover expenses, or making other investment decisions. (*see note below)
  • Trust: Trusts—essential estate planning documents that specify how a person wants certain assets to be disbursed—come in several different varieties. Each type of trust has its own rules and requirements that affect how funds are distributed after a person passes away. The main difference between a will and a trust is that a trust can be enacted while the individual is still alive, or after they have died. A will only goes into effect after a person has passed on.
  • Will: There are many different kinds of wills, each with different stipulations regarding how assets and property are to be doled out after a person dies. As previously mentioned, a will can only be activated by the death of the individual. For more information on writing wills, see What is a Will and Why Every Senior Should Have One.

*An additional note about POA: There can be confusion with regards to the difference between “durable” and “nondurable” powers of attorney. A durable POA is one that endures a person’s incapacitation. This means that, until a person either passes away or is able to regain control of their own affairs, the POA remains in effect. This is as opposed to a nondurable POA, which becomes null upon a predefined contingency—such as a particular date, or in the event of a person’s incapacitation. For additional information on POA, see: Things You Can and Can’t Do

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