Caregivers Need a Paperwork Power Team
The Avengers, the X-Men, the Ninja Turtles. They all knew they were better in a team. Caregivers are often tasked with getting the legal and financial jumble of paperwork in order for their loved one.
Even though it can feel daunting, there are ways to make it less painful. One way to streamline and navigate the paperwork efforts for your loved one is by putting together and utilizing a team of professionals to help you.
Your Paperwork Power Team might not be as flashy as famous superheroes, but they are just as powerful.
I get by with a little help from my...Paperwork Power Team
As a busy mom of three, I knew I didn't have time to piece together DIY solutions to my Mom's paperwork and I wouldn't want to risk making a costly mistake.
If you can swing it, I believe hiring experts for these tasks are best. This does not have to break the bank. There are a lot of organizations that offer free advice on elder law topics and can suggest services or professionals that can help.
Start with your local area's Agency on Aging (a federal program), sometimes called Aging and Adult Services. Our area has a nonprofit law office that offers free legal services to low-income residents.
Another good place to start would be joining a local support group for dementia caregivers and asking for the group's recommendations.
Navigating Alzheimer's paperwork
If you are a long-distance caregiver or don't know where to start with getting your loved one's paperwork in order, an Aging Life Care Specialist (ALCS) might be your answer.
An ALCS, also called a geriatric care manager, is the swiss army knife in your tool belt of professionals. They are usually licensed social workers or nurses experienced in senior care. They can make referrals to attorneys and other professionals. They can also monitor care needs, help with doctor appointments, and arrange in-home or respite care.
They can explain difficult topics and answer questions, help create a plan for short-term or long-term care, and even address the emotional concerns of caregivers or long-distance family members.
You can find a professional in your area and also read more about the services offered on the Aging Life Care Association website.
Fees for geriatric care managers are generally not covered by Medicare or Medigap insurance, though some consultations might be covered by long-term care insurance.
Next up: Find a great elder care attorney
A lawyer can make sure that your loved one's house and finances are protected after diagnosis or death and that their wishes are followed no matter their mental capacity.
You don't have to use the most expensive law firm. But I suggest finding someone who specializes in elder care. Elder care attorneys have a lot of experience with wills and trusts, guardianships, social security, Medicaid, and Medicare. (Want to know more? I'll crack all the lingo in future articles.)
They also have knowledge of how to plan for end-of-life care decisions and take advantage of veteran benefits.
Make sure the professional is a good fit
I lived out of state, so I asked a local friend in Mom's city for a recommendation. I specifically asked for someone patient and easy to work with, because I knew I would be asking a lot of questions.
Don't feel stuck with the first lawyer or professional you call. Make sure it's a good fit since you'll be working together on very important and sensitive topics for your loved one.
Since Mom moved to a different state when she came to live with us, I also found a lawyer in her new area. While trusts and wills are typically honored in the new state and don't need to be rewritten, there are some state-specific laws regarding Medicaid eligibility and advance healthcare directives. It's a good idea to have a local representative who can double-check the details.
You can always do some of the paperwork yourself. But the federal laws involving Medicaid and Medicare are confusing and always evolving. A professional will be able to help you navigate the complexities.
Not great at math? There's a financial advisor for that
You may not need a financial planner or advisor. Or you might prefer to do it yourself. In our case, we got peace of mind having Mom's assets protected with a certified financial planner (CFP) to help us.
A financial planner helps companies and individuals make a plan to meet long-term financial goals, like planning for retirement or how to put kids through college. A CFP has taken classes, passed an exam, and met a requirement of several thousand hours of professional experience.
You might also hear about financial advisors - that is a broader term for those who help manage your money (it includes CFPs).
Our CFP helped us make a plan for what Mom's priorities were, consolidate accounts, and invest in safe retirement accounts. Ours made sure all details were covered, like having beneficiaries named on all Mom's accounts.
Financial planners can be paid in a number of ways. Some charge an annual, hourly, or flat fee (fee-only). Others are paid through the investments they sell (commission-based). And some do a combination of both (fee-based).
Financial advisors help your loved one protect and plan
Our financial planner had safeguards in place to protect Mom. There is no shortage of opportunists who might like to persuade an older lady living with dementia to write them an extra check or donate to their "charity."
As Mom’s trustee and power of attorney, I also liked the extra layer of accountability between me and Mom's finances so I wouldn't be accused of anything later.
A good financial advisor can also be a trusted guide on the money issues to come. And there are plenty - like Medicaid eligibility, possibly assisted living or memory care facilities, and eventually the distribution of assets after your loved one's passing.
Advisors understand tax rules and can work hand-in-hand with accountants and lawyers to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Are you an IRS expert? Me neither - hire a tax accountant
This is especially good advice for someone who is managing finances for a loved one with complicated assets. DIYing your loved one's taxes might not cut it here.
Tax laws change every year and accountants stay up on all the details to save your loved one as much money as possible. If your loved one can afford it, it's an easy decision to hire a good accountant.
Would you like to talk to others in the community about preparing and navigating Alzheimer's paperwork? Reach out in our forums. This is the second part of a series. Stay tuned for part III about breaking down the jargon.
Do you have a good system in place to deal with stress and burnout?
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