Are you caught in the middle? Caring for generations both older and younger than you? Running between the pediatrician and the geriatrician? Along with medical needs, those older and younger generations have legal needs, and those legal needs fall to you. Here’s what you need to know as a member of the sandwich generation:
Caring for the Older Generation. If your aging loved one is legally competent, they should meet with a lawyer to have the following legal documents prepared:
- Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will (sometimes called advanced directives)
- General/Financial Durable Power of Attorney
These documents appoint decision makers to assist them with their medical and financial matters. Signing those documents now, while your loved ones can travel and communicate their wishes, will help smooth the transition to future times when they may not be able to do so. These documents keep their medical and financial affairs private, and save time and money, along with avoiding court intervention. If possible, these documents should include a “back-up” person who could step in if you are no longer able to care for your loved one. The lawyer may also recommend a trust or last will and testament.
If your loved one is no longer able to communicate their wishes and these documents are not in place, consult with a lawyer about alternative options, such as guardianships.
Perhaps more importantly, here is what not to do:
- Do not transfer assets into your own name or add yourself as a co-owner. This may disqualify your loved one for government benefits for nursing home care or may be perceived as coercive, potentially having either financial or criminal consequences to you as the caregiver.
- Do not add or change beneficiaries to their bank accounts, retirement accounts, or life insurance policies, unless you are doing so under legal guidance.
Before assisting your loved one with major financial decisions, carefully consider tax consequences and the effect on eligibility related for government benefits; unfortunately, it is not as simple as a Google search.
Caring for the Younger Generation. For many families, the biggest legal concern for their young children is what happens to them if you die or are unable to care for them. In your own last will and testament or power of attorney, you should include guardianship provisions specifying your wishes for who will care for them in your absence.
If you are a caregiver for a person with special needs (from physical impairments to developmental disabilities), you may need additional planning, such as a supplemental needs trust and an ABLE account. Seek assistance in determining what government benefits programs apply and their eligibility requirements.
Caring for Yourself and Your Spouse/Partner. The first step to being a good caregiver is taking care of yourself through proper rest, exercise and nutrition. You should see a lawyer and set up your own plan for health care and finances in the event of your illness or death. Having an estate plan benefits both the older and younger generations in your care.