Frequently Asked Questions about Caregiving

I’m new to caregiving. Where do I start?

An older woman with her family caregiver

Caregiving can be overwhelming, especially when you’re starting out. Take a deep breath! Then tackle one task at a time.

First, assess your loved one’s needs. What types of help are needed? Ask family members and friends to share tasks. Look for resources in your community, such as home health care or adult day care centers.

How do I help organize important paperwork and get affairs in order?

It can be helpful to know where your loved one’s important papers are stored so you can find them when you need them.

Another tip: Get formal permission from your loved one to talk with his or her lawyer, bank, and healthcare providers in advance. Many of these institutions have their own forms that must be signed with your loved one’s consent.

Getting Your Affairs in Order

No one ever plans to be sick or disabled. Yet, it’s this kind of planning that can make all the difference in an emergency.

Preparing and Organizing Legal Documents for the Future

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Share this infographic to spread advance care planning tips to help get your affairs in order.

Long before she fell, Louise put all her important papers in one place and told her son where to find them. She gave him the name of her lawyer, as well as a list of people he could contact at her bank, doctor’s office, insurance company, and investment firm. She made sure he had copies of her Medicare and other health insurance cards. She made sure her son could access her checking account and safe deposit box at the bank. Louise made sure Medicare and her doctor had written permission to talk with her son about her health and insurance claims.

On the other hand, Ben always took care of family money matters, and he never talked about the details with Shirley. No one but Ben knew that his life insurance policy was in a box in the closet or that the car title and deed to the house were filed in his desk drawer. Ben never expected that his wife would have to take over. His lack of planning has made a tough job even tougher for Shirley.

What Exactly Is an “Important Paper”?

Older couple getting help with legal and financial documentsThe answer to this question may be different for every family. Remember, this is a starting place. You may have other information to add. For example, if you have a pet, you will want to include the name and address of your veterinarian. Include complete information about:

Personal Records

  • Full legal name
  • Social Security number
  • Legal residence
  • Date and place of birth
  • Names and addresses of spouse and children
  • Location of birth and death certificates and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship, and adoption
  • Employers and dates of employment
  • Education and military records
  • Names and phone numbers of religious contacts
  • Memberships in groups and awards received
  • Names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, doctors, lawyers, and financial advisors
  • Medications taken regularly (be sure to update this regularly)
  • Location of living will and other legal documents

Financial Records

  • Sources of income and assets (pension from your employer, IRAs, 401(k)s, interest, etc.)
  • Social Security and Medicare/Medicade information
  • Insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, car) with policy numbers and agents’ names and phone numbers
  • Names of your banks and account numbers (checking, savings, credit union)
  • Investment income (stocks, bonds, property) and stockbrokers’ names and phone numbers
  • Copy of most recent income tax return
  • Location of most up-to-date will with an original signature
  • Liabilities, including property tax— what is owed, to whom, and when payments are due
  • Mortgages and debts—how and when they are paid
  • Location of original deed of trust for home
  • Car title and registration
  • Credit and debit card names and numbers
  • Location of safe deposit box and key

There are many different types of legal documents that can help you plan how your affairs will be handled in the future. Many of these documents have names that sound alike, so make sure you are getting the documents you want. Also, State laws vary, so find out about the rules, requirements, and forms used in your State.

Wills and trusts let you name the person you want your money and property to go to after you die.

Advance directives let you make arrangements for your care if you become sick. Two common types of advance directives are:

  • living will gives you a say in your health care if you become too sick to make your wishes known. In a living will, you can state what kind of care you do or don’t want. This can make it easier for family members to make tough healthcare decisions for you.
  • durable power of attorney for health care lets you name the person you want to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself. Make sure the person you name is willing to make those decisions for you.

For legal matters, there are ways to give someone you trust the power to act in your place.

  • general power of attorney lets you give someone else the authority to act on your behalf, but this power will end if you are unable to make your own decisions.
  • durable power of attorney allows you to name someone to act on your behalf for any legal task, but it stays in place if you become unable to make your own decisions.

Help for Getting Your Legal and Financial Papers in Order

You may want to talk with a lawyer about setting up a general power of attorney, durable power of attorney, joint account, trust, or advance directive. Be sure to ask about the lawyer’s fees before you make an appointment.

You should be able to find a directory of local lawyers on the Internet or at your local library, or you can contact your local bar association for lawyers in your area. Your local bar association can also help you find what free legal aid options your State has to offer. An informed family member may be able to help you manage some of these issues.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Your Affairs in Order

Getting your affairs in order can be difficult, but it is an important part of preparing for the future, for you and your loved ones. It is important to gather as much information as possible to help ease the process. Here are a few questions that you may have and some answers that can help.

Who should you choose to be your healthcare proxy?

Older couple filling out paperwork like advance directives and wills

If you decide to choose a proxy, think about people you know who share your views and values about life and medical decisions. Your proxy might be a family member, a friend, your lawyer, or someone with whom you worship.

My aging parents can no longer make their own healthcare decisions. How do I decide what type of care is right for them?

It can be overwhelming to be asked to make healthcare decisions for someone who is no longer able to make his or her own decisions. Get a better understanding of how to make healthcare decisions for a loved one, including approaches you can take, issues you might face, and questions you can ask to help you prepare.

How can I help my older parents from afar?

If you live an hour or more away from a person who needs care, you are a long distance caregiver. There are a number of jobs you can take on even if you live far away. You can arrange and coordinate care in the person’s home or long-term care facility, help with finances, organize legal and financial paperwork, or help make the home safer. You can also research local resources and learn how to make the most of your limited time when you visit a relative who lives far away. Find out what your relative would like to do during your visit. Remember, many people would rather just spend time talking than have you organize their closet or do something else that you think needs doing.

You can also hire a geriatric care manager—a specially trained professional who can help your family identify needs and make a plan to meet those needs.

How can I find caregiving resources in my area?

Whatever kind of help your loved one needs — for example, with personal care, transportation, or meal preparation — it may be available in your community.

How do I choose a long-term care facility?

Sometimes, an older person you care for can no longer live safely in his or her own home. Some may move in with family or friends. People who require lots of help might move to a residential facility, such as an assisted living facility, nursing home, or continuing care retirement community. But how can you find a place that will take good care of the older person you love and meet his or her needs? If possible, it’s best to plan ahead for long-term care.

Learn about different types of long-term care. Then, visit facilities and ask questions. Note how comfortable and content the residents seem and how they interact with the staff.

How can we pay for long-term care?

Many caregivers and older adults worry about the cost of long-term care. These expenses can use up a significant part of monthly income, even for families who thought they had saved enough. How people pay for long-term care depends on their financial situation and the kinds of services they use. Often, they rely on a variety of payment sources, including personal funds, federal and state government programs, and private financing options.

Can I get paid to take care of a family member?

Family caregivers make a lot of sacrifices to care for older or sick relatives. Some even quit their jobs to care for a loved one full-time. Your state may offer help to certain caregivers. Veterans, Medicaid recipients, and people living with certain diseases may also be eligible for financial assistance through federal, state, and private organizations.

How do I make an older person’s home safer?

Talk with the person’s doctors and social workers about how his or her health might make it harder to get around and take care of themselves at home. Local and state offices on aging and social service agencies may be able to provide or tell you about services to make the home easier and safer to live in. Think about things like ramps at the front and back doors, grab bars in the shower and next to the toilet, and handles on doors and faucets that are easier to use.

How can I talk with an older person’s doctor?

Many older adults find it helpful to bring a family member or friend with them to the doctor’s office. Just remember to get formal permission from your relative to speak with his or her health care providers. Before the appointment, you can help your relative prepare for the visit, write down concerns, and go over what to say to the doctor. During the visit, you can take notes. After the appointment, review what the doctor said to help your loved one remember.

I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. How can I get a break from caregiving?

Taking care of a sick family member is hard work. Taking care of yourself is important, too. When you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, you can’t be a good caregiver to your loved one.

Take Care of Yourself as a Caregiver infographic. Click to open page with full description.

All caregivers need a break from time to time. Take a walk, talk with friends, or get some sleep. Eating healthy foods and staying physically active will help you stay healthy. Joining a caregiver support group — either in your community or online — can help you feel less alone and gives you a chance to exchange stories and ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family members or friends. Respite care services may also be an option.

What do I do if I suspect an older person is being mistreated?

Abuse can happen to anyone, no matter the person’s age, sex, race, religion, or ethnic background. Abuse can be physical, emotional, financial, or sexual, and it can happen at a facility, at a family member’s house, or at home.

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