Watching a parent or other elderly loved one succumb to the physical and/or mental deterioration that goes along with the aging process is never easy. Trying to provide care to a loved one from far away can make things even more difficult. Nevertheless, many people find themselves in precisely that role – a long-distance caregiver. In an effort to make your life a little easier, a Woburn area elder law attorney at DeBruyckere Law Offices explains how to be a long-distance caregiver.
Unpaid Caregivers by the Numbers
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, about 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months. The majority of those caregivers (82%) provide care for a single adult, usually a close family member. The monetary value of the services provided by unpaid caregivers is truly staggering – and it is increasing noticeably as the older population continues to increase at a historic rate. Over five years ago, in 2013, the economic value of all unpaid care in the United States was an estimated $470 billion. Compare that to the value of that same care in 2007 when it was estimated to be at $375 billion – an increase of almost $100 billion in just six years.
Not all that long ago, adult children tended to remain fairly close to their parents even when they started their own families. In fact, it was common for three or more generations to live together, or within walking distance of each other, in large part so that they could all take care of each other. Today, however, it is just as likely for families to be scattered across the country if not across the world. When an elderly parent (or other family member) does reach a point at which care is needed, picking up and moving back home in order to provide that care may not be a realistic opton. Being a long-distance caregiver though is hardly easy. If you are a long-distance caregiver, there are some things you can do to make your “job” a bit less stressful, including:
- Educate yourself with regard to your loved one’s current medical conditions and medications. Check with your parent’s doctors and research online. Make sure though that you have permission for online access to medical records and other information protected by HIPPEA. To help care for your parent you need to have a clear understanding of how any medical conditions they have impact them. This will help you know what to expect and what symptoms to watch out for that could indicate a serious problem.
- Take the time to fully research potential care providers. While it may be difficult to do from afar, make an effort to learn what you can about the health care professionals caring for your parent. If someone provides in-home care you want to develop as close a relationship as possible with this person because he/she has direct access to your parent and could exert considerable influence over him/her.
- Secure important documents. This might include his/her birth certificate, social security card, insurance documentation, bank account statements, estate planning documents and anything else that seems important.
- Obtain original copies of important legal documents. In order to properly care for your parent you will likely need the proper legal authority to do so. That authority may be given to you in the form of a general power of attorney, as the Trustee of a trust, in medical release forms, as an agent in a medical power of attorney, or as a court appointed guardian. You may also want to become a joint owner of property owned by your parent to make it easier to manage the property. In any case, you need to have the proper documentation close at hand in case someone questions your authority.
- Plan for an emergency. Whether you are caring for an elderly loved one who lives in the same house as you or who lives thousands of miles away, you need to be prepared for an emergency. Make sure your vehicle is road trip ready if you live within driving distance. If you live too far to drive, decide ahead of time the best way to get there quickly (plane, bus, train). If you must travel abroad, make sure your passport is up to date. Finally, have a contingency plan for children, pets, and your job in the event you must pick up and go on a moment’s notice.
Contact A Woburn Area Elder Law Attorney
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about providing care for an elderly loved one, contact a Woburn area elder law attorney at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.
What is a Power of Attorney for Health Care?
A Power of Attorney for Health Care is a type of advance directive that allows your loved one to designate an Agent to make health care decisions, including those involving life-sustaining treatment, if he/she can no longer make them because of incapacity.
If others are caring for your loved one while you are not there, it is imperative that you watch for signs of elder abuse, such as:
• Noticeable mood changes (anger, depression, sadness)
• Unexplained physical injuries ( bruises, bone fractures, restraint marks)
• Financial problems (unpaid bills, missing money, unexplained expenses)
If your loved one reaches the point at which he/she cannot make decisions and/or manage his/her financial affairs because of incapacity, you may need to petition a court for guardianship. Consult with an elder law attorney if you believe guardianship is necessary.