Your Caregiver Toolbox
One of the biggest challenges in becoming a caregiver is knowing where to start. If you find yourself facing this challenge, consider using the steps below as a guide for preparing to become your loved one’s caregiver.
1.) Ensure you have copies of key documents
Consider creating a binder or a folder containing your loved one’s general information. This can come in handy if you are trying to verify them through their former job, military service or current association. Having key points of contact such as pastors and family are helpful if your loved one is hospitalized. You can use the list below as a guide of what information to have on hand:
• Full legal name (also get prior names, like a maiden name) and legal residence (also place of birth)
• Social Security card and ID/ birth certificate or passport.
• Names and addresses of spouse and children
• Location of birth and death certificates and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship, and adoption
• Education, employment and/or military records (DD214 for service after 1/1/1950) and memberships in groups and awards received
• Names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, doctors, lawyers and financial advisors, religious organization and points of contact
Consider either getting a copy or at least the location of your loved one’s estate documents such as wills and trusts. Knowing where these documents are located can go a long way in helping you settle their estate when they pass away.
If possible, talk with your loved one’s medical providers in person to establish a relationship. Find out your relative’s medical plan such as medications they are on, regularly scheduled doctor’s visits, upcoming procedures and restrictions to help maintain your relative’s health. Know the location of any healthcare documents such as:
• A durable power of attorney for healthcare, sometimes known as a medical power of attorney, lists the person who can make medical decisions for your relative if they cannot make a decision on their own.
• A living will describes the medical treatment they may or may not want to receive.
• Advance health care directives are a combination of the above in certain states.
• A do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order tells health-care professionals not to perform CPR or advanced cardiac life support if their heart stops beating or they stop breathing.
• A physician’s orders for life sustaining treatment (POLST) provides even more detail than the DNR and covers preferred treatment for intubation, antibiotic use, and feeding tubes.
Review these documents with your relative to make sure that the documents still express their wishes. Consult with an attorney if they wish to make changes.
Review your relative’s finances to understand their income and expenses. Understand what bills are coming in so you can make sure they are paid on time. Know where your relative’s financial assets are located. If your loved one works with a financial advisor, contact them (you may need your relative on the line) to help you locate their financial information. Some of the financial information you may want to have on hand are:
• Sources of income and assets such as 401(k) accounts or pensions from a previous employer and any IRAs or non-employer related retirement accounts
• Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid information
• Insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, car) with policy numbers and agents’ names and phone numbers
• Names of banks and account numbers - including checking, savings or other accounts held at a bank or credit union and credit or debit card numbers
• Investment income from stocks, bonds, and investment properties as well as stockbrokers’ names and phone numbers
• Copy of their most recent income tax return
• Mortgages and outstanding debts - how and when they are paid, liabilities, including property tax - what is owed, to whom, and when payments are due
• Location of original deed of trust for home
• Car title and registration
• Location of safe deposit box and key
2.) Plan for the impact on your own finances
Depending on the needs of your relative, caring for them may be as simple as visiting them for a few hours once a week or possibly have to take time away from work to care for them full time. Assess how much time you may have to devote to caring for them and consider taking the following steps:
Look into paid leave through your employer.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for themselves, a sick family member (limited to a spouse, child or parent), or a new child. The FMLA protects employees from losing their jobs or healthcare benefits during the time they are out caring for loved ones. This law applies only to companies with 50 or more employees and an employee must have worked for the employer at least 12 months and 1,250 hours during the previous year before taking FMLA leave, so check with your HR representative to see if you qualify.
Some states have expanded leave protection. This covers you in the event you’re taking care of other relatives such as grandparents, siblings or in-laws. Other states have programs that continue to pay workers part of their wages while they take time off to care for an ill family member.
Consider how taking time away from work will impact your retirement.
Any break in your working career equates to less income for retirement. Consider doing a retirement calculation to assess how a break from work may impact your retirement savings. Depending on how much time you have before taking leave to care for your family member or friend, consider increasing your 401(k) deferral rate as much as possible to make up for lost time.
Determine sources of financial help for caring costs.
It is estimated that caregivers pay over $5,500 annually in out-of-pocket caregiving expenses. If you add that to the lost wages that caregivers typically experience, being a caregiver can seem financially overwhelming. You don’t have to carry the burden alone, though.
3.) Create a personal care agreement
A personal care agreement is a contract between you and the person receiving your care. Though it may seem unnecessary to have such a legal document in place, it can also provide peace of mind that everyone - including extended family or other parties - are on the same page regarding expectations.
Drawing up a personal care agreement simply clarifies for all those involved what tasks are expected in return for a stated compensation.
4.) Establish your support team
Caregivers are often very focused on their loved one’s needs - sometimes forgetting to care for their own. Remember the airplane oxygen mask analogy. You can’ help others if you’re gasping for air and losing consciousness!
There are a host of trustworthy resources available for support like your local office on aging and illness awareness or advocacy groups,
Additionally, consider these resources for support:
• Family members or friends of you or your loved one who will listen without judgment
• Your church, temple, or other place of worship
• Caregiver support groups
• A therapist, social worker, or counselor
• National caregiver organizations
• Organizations specific to your family members illness or disability
This may seem like a lot of work. However, doing the upfront preparation will take a lot of the stress out of caregiving. Proper planning may create peace of mind for the person who has a chronic and/or progressive disease and for the entire family. Having documents that outline wishes can also help alleviate family disputes.
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