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Monday, March 5, 2012

Caregiving Paperwork

When you are beginning to take care of someone with a serious and chronic disease you get good advice to get some paperwork out of the way. I call this the first round of paperwork, and frankly everyone over the age of 18 needs to do some of it -- wills and medical advocate paperwork -- and everyone over the age of 60 probably should get durable powers of attorney done as well.

It is a good idea to take the house title paperwork into the attorney at this point as well. Make sure it is set up so the house will transfer outside of the will in case one of you dies. Again, every state is different.

If you are over 18 you need a will. Sounds silly at the younger ages, but you might as well get a simple one done, just because. If you are over 18 you also need to do whatever your particular state requires for medical advocacy, because if you can't make decisions because you are too sick to do it, someone has to. What the state wants is different in every state so be careful about Internet paperwork. Frankly this is a good time to make contact with an attorney because you just might need one one of these days.

If you are over 60 and married you need to exchange durable powers of attorney so that whichever one of you is healthy can take care of the other, and also take care of family business. If someone has dementia the well partner needs to designate someone other than the sick partner as advocate for medical issues as well as give them power of attorney. Obviously you need to pick someone you trust not to abuse the power you are giving them.

And while you are talking to the attorney, find out what the Medicaid requirements are in your state. The worst case is you might need it at some point. If you don't need it, then asking these questions won't affect you either way. Again, every state is slightly different and you want to be set up correctly for your particular state just in case.

So that is the first round. There is a second. And frequently no one will tell you about that second round. Especially with dementia, but probably with other diseases as well, the well partner needs to get legal status to talk to all doctors, insurance companies and financial companies. This includes Medicare and Social Security. Some of those entities will have their own paperwork and won't accept the powers of attorney and medical advocate paperwork. Some will just need a copy of those papers to make changes. But in ALL CASES if you do the paperwork while the sick partner can still sign his/her name everything will be easier.

This is the time to change the ownership of all utility contracts. Most utility companies will accept requests from the contract owner or his/her spouse, but occasionally one won't. And that can drive you nuts. It happened to me at the worst time.

If there is insurance it would be helpful if the ownership of the policies was either in joint custody or in the name of the well partner. This is a just in case situation that may or may not be meaningful at a later date, but won't hurt anything if it is not meaningful.


  1. Good advice about transferring names on utilities. Unfortunately sometimes one gets caught off guard. One acquaintance lost her husband suddenly, really without warning. She had a hell of a time with AT&T changing over the name.

  2. I've heard more than one story like that. And the last time I was talking about it with a widow too. It can get even worse if the contract owner is alive, but can't come to the phone. I've been lucky and have not had problems. Other people I know have not been as lucky.