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Most people become caregivers by virtue of a loved one’s health crisis or unexpected diagnosis—a phone call from caring friends that Dad’s behavior has changed, a tragic fall or accident, or a diagnosis of a life-impairing disease. Suddenly the world tilts, and you’re a caregiver. What will you need in order to carry out your loved one’s wishes and provide for their needs for the long-term? Your goals are to 1) keep them as comfortable as possible, and 2) to protect their assets for their enjoyment and care for as long as possible. Here are a few of the basic documents you will need to accomplish those goals.
POWER OF ATTORNEY
A power of attorney is a document by which people designate an agent to act on their behalf in financial or legal matters. This document makes it legally possible for you to conduct legal, financial, and business matters for your loved one. A durable power of attorney extends your designated authority in the event that your loved one becomes mentally incapable of conducting his or her own affairs.
MEDICAL POWER OF ATTORNEY
A medical power of attorney allows you to make health care decisions on behalf of your loved one. Everyone over the age of 17 should complete a medical power of attorney in order to state their desires, should a catastrophic event strike.
The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) keeps your health information and records private. Unless your loved one signs HIPPA authorization giving you access to speak to all of their treating medical provider (each medical provider has their own form), providers are legally prohibited to speak to you about your loved one’s medical condition, even if you are a relative. In some states, HIPPA authorization is not recognized unless the patient is unable to express their own wishes. Give copies of the HIPAA authorization form to health-care providers, and make sure you have additional copies on hand in case you must provide them.
SOCIAL SECURITY REPRESENTATIVE PAYEE
This is perhaps one of the best-kept and most vital secrets to be learned by caregivers of those who receive Social Security benefits and are unable to manage their finances. The Social Security Administration does not recognize Power of Attorney. Its own form and process for caregivers called Social Security Representative Payee. In order to speak to, negotiate with, or communicate about your loved one’s SS benefits (which often happens when they become incapacitated), you need to apply to become their SS Representative Payee. My family discovered this information in a crisis, which was unfortunate for us and caused a delay of SS payments for several months. For more information, go to https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10076.pdf
Have you found yourself unprepared as a caregiver when these documents were needed? We’d love to hear from you.