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Caring for an Elder Relative: Where to
From the Nolo Family Law and Immigration Center
It's important to understand the legal and financial considerations
of caring for an elder relative.
As Americans live increasingly longer lives, many require
ongoing, long-term care. This care often falls to grown
children—men and women who are in their ‘40s, ‘50s,
and ‘60s and busy with careers or perhaps children
of their own. Getting caught in this care-giving "sandwich" — growing
children on one side, aging parents on the other—can
be an emotional and financial burden, especially if you
don’t know where to begin or how to get help.
First, you'll need to consider some
legal and financial matters. To provide good care for
an elder relative, it may be necessary to deal with
care facilities, insurance, powers of attorney, and
Figuring Out What Needs to Be Done
Following is a checklist to help you determine what your
relative may need. Don't let it overwhelm you. Simply
use it to make your own list of things to do or to learn
more about, if necessary. Then you'll be in a better
position to ask others to help with both discrete and
Type of Care Needed
To determine the types of care your relative may require,
ask yourself these questions:
What kind of care does my relative need now, and
is that likely to change in the future?
Health Insurance and Medicare
The following questions will help you understand what
kind of health care coverage your loved one has or
Taking Over Finances and Decisions
The time may come when you or other loved ones need
to make basic financial and health care decisions
for your relative. Be sure to get answers to these
- Does my relative have a living will (advance health
care directive) or power of attorney for finances?
If not, how can I help my relative create the necessary
documents? (For more information, see Helping
a Loved One Make a Power of Attorney.)
- Is my loved one no longer capable of making his
or her own decisions or consenting to a power of
attorney? (For help, see Conservatorships
Finally, here are some important issues to consider
about wills and other arrangements at the end of
- Does my relative have a will? If not, how can I
help my relative create a legally binding will?
- Has my loved one communicated any wishes for final
ceremonies and the disposition of his or her body?
- Has my relative shared information on where to
find important documents and passwords regarding
bank accounts, retirement accounts, safe deposit
boxes, stocks, life insurance policies, and wills
After you've reviewed the list above and have an idea
of the tasks and issues involved, take a deep breath
and remember that you can ask for help. To begin,
you can encourage your relative to be as involved
as possible in his or her own care. Avoid taking
control of tasks that your loved one can still perform.
The more your relative is allowed to do, the longer
he or she will be able to maintain a sense of ownership
over the course of his or her own life.
Next, you can turn to others for assistance, from
your immediate family and friends, from brothers and
sisters, aunts and uncles—anyone who might be
able to lend a hand. (In many families, siblings divide
the responsibilities of parent care.) Often, delegating
even a small task can mean a great deal, especially
if it relieves you from something on your to-do list.
You can also turn to your local senior center or other
professional resources such as in-home health aides
and elder companions. Of course, most of these services
cost money, though some are covered under some health
insurance plans or Medicaid.
Caring for an elder relative is not easy, and you
deserve all of the support you can get. During the
hard times, it might help to remember that what you
are doing is noble and generous. Whether or not your
loved one is able to express it, he or she is fortunate
to have someone who is willing and able to do the job
you've taken on.