Acting as the caregiver to an elderly loved one can be an overwhelming responsibility. Along with being accountable for the obvious day-to-day assistance, the legal and financial liabilities should also be measured.
“For nearly a year, at the end of my mother’s life, Medicaid paid the $14,000-a-month nursing home care she required,” said Jane Gross in an article for The New York Times. “She had done nothing to quicken her eligibility for Medicaid. Living on a meager Social Security benefit since being widowed 28 years earlier, she used proceeds from the sale of the family home to pay for six years in an assisted living center. She didn’t receive one penny from expensive long-term care insurance that covered none of what she needed, so she was left with few options. My mother passed away with less than $50 in her bank account.”
Unfortunately, this type of story is common for the elderly. In southeastern Idaho, the mean monthly cost of a facility is $4,000. For many, they are not prepared for the financial burden that too often comes along with other catastrophic news, like an illness, forcing the parent from their home into a facility.
The topic of getting older is often uncomfortable to broach. Even if the parent is relatively healthy, the first time they need to ask for help, such as to put on a pair of shoes and socks because of worsening arthritis, it often causes a moment when both the parent and their adult children notice things are changing. It’s precisely because this conversation is awkward that many people put it off until it’s too late.
In over half of the states in the union, filial responsibility laws require making relatives the primary support for family members who are no longer able to support themselves. Adult children’s financial obligation includes paying for necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and medical attention for elderly parents.
For residents in the other 20 states where Medicaid is provided, elderly who have exhausted their assets may get increased support from the government who pays for their long-term care. But Medicaid is in trouble, and that trouble is going to continue to grow with the senior tsunami. Ten thousand baby boomers turn 65 every single day, and this will be the case for the next 18 years—at which point, two percent of the nation’s population will be seniors. As this population continues to rise, and life expectancy rates climb into the 80’s in the next 10 years, the staggering costs of long-term care and the explosion in the number of people who need it grows exponentially, more adult children will be required to take up the slack for their aging parents.
Financial obligations are just one of the implications that caregivers must contend with. The Family Medical Leave Act entitles you to extended time off work—up to 12 weeks—to provide care for qualifying family members. However, even though you may legally take time off, your employer may not be obligated to pay you for this time.
Often, while caring for an older person, a caregiver may realize that the person can no longer manage his or her finances. Even if the older person understands that their situation is changing, they must deal with the feelings associated with their loss of independence and declining health, as the caregiver learns to deal with the role reversal of caregiver to the parent. The caregiver quickly finds him or herself navigating previously unknown interpersonal and legal terrain. Caregivers and patients may choose to seek legal options, and because of the intricacies of these options, an estate planning or probate attorney should be consulted who will guide the parties through the options while keeping their best interests in mind.