The holiday season is a joyous time, but it can also be a stark reminder that our parents are aging and may need some extra care in the near future. That’s why now is a good time to ensure that the proper legal documents are in place, just in case something happens to them.

In terms of medical care, it’s important to understand that the laws that regulate the healthcare industry are very strict—especially about who can participate in conversations with doctors and nurses, gain access to medical records, and make medical decisions on behalf of the patient. Having the proper legal documents in place (hopefully well in advance of needing them) is the only way to ensure that you—or another trusted individual—will be able to access medical records and make important decisions about your loved one’s medical care. Unfortunately, many families do not realize that these legal documents are necessities, which can lead to highly stressful and emotional situations.

Besides taking care of your loved one’s physical needs, you may also need to help them manage their money and make decisions about their finances. Clearly-drafted legal documents that not only outline your loved one’s wishes, but that also name agents who will be responsible for making such decisions, are essential.

The following are five must-have legal documents that every family caregiver should have on file:

1. Healthcare power of attorney

A healthcare power of attorney (POA), or medical power of attorney, or Advance Directive (relevancy depending on your state of residence) is a document that designates an individual to make medical decisions on behalf of someone else. This power goes into effect when the principal becomes unable to make decisions for themself. Without a designated representative named in a healthcare power of attorney document, decision-making authority is dictated by state law and may result in an expenses court proceeding.

2. Living will

A living will or medical directive details someone’s wishes with regards to end-of-life care. This document goes into effect in terminal situations, when a patient is in an end-of-life situation or becomes permanently unconscious and incapable of making their own decisions. Without a written directive, life sustaining treatment may continue when the patient cannot make decisions for themself, even if the procedure goes against their personal wishes or beliefs.

3. HIPAA authorization form

The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides legal standards for keeping a person’s health information and records private. This means it is illegal for medical professionals to share any details about a person’s healthcare, unless they have given written consent. The HIPAA authorization is an important document for family caregivers. This authorizes doctors to keep you in the loop about your loved one’s medical status and billing information.

4. Durable power of attorney

This is a simple way for your aging loved ones to allow someone else to manage their finances. They can choose to transfer power only if they become incapacitated, or it can take effect immediately. Financial power of attorney allows a caregiver to invest money, operate a business, file taxes, manage accounts, pay bills, buy or sell assets, and use assets to otherwise manage expenses.

5. Last will and testament

A last will and testament is a document that outlines final directions for who will receive a person’s assets, including real estate, and tangible personal property when they die. The will also identifies an executor to carry out these orders. Without a will, the courts will determine what happens to that person’s assets, following state intestacy law.

Having these five documents in place is vital for your aging loved one, and your entire family. To ensure that your loved one’s wishes are carried out properly, it is always recommended that you consult with an estate planning attorney who will understand your needs and wants, be able to foresee unexpected complications, and help you create a legally-binding plan to ensure your security, and the security of your aging loved ones.

Contact Caress Law, PC today to speak with an estate planning attorney about your situation today. The best time to plan for the future is long before the future arrives…