Written by Jim Worthington on November 20, 2022

November 2022 is the 26th annual Presidentially-recognized National Family Caregivers Month. Please join me in giving thanks to the millions of people nationwide who take care of their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and other family members. Having been in this role myself, I know that the job can seem thankless and is exhausting.

People sometimes ask me how much family discord and mean-spirited greed I see. Fortunately, those situations are the exception. Fully 90% of the families I see rally together and take care of their loved one just because it’s the right thing to do.

When those families come to me at the start of the caregiving relationship, I’m able to help them by making sure the person they’re caring for (often a parent, so we’ll use that word here instead of something awkward like “Care Recipient”) has a Power of Attorney that appoints an Agent to make both financial and health care decisions for them. My preference is to appoint one Agent at a time instead of co-agents as explained in this earlier article, Your Power of Attorney: Pitfalls to Avoid. The same person can manage both financial and health care decisions, or the parent can name different people for those different roles. Because the skills needed are different, it’s not uncommon to name different people to fill them.

The parent also needs a Living Will Directive that states their preference for end-of-life decisions and appoints a person called a Health Care Surrogate to make those decisions. It’s just about impossible to anticipate every situation that could arise. Rather than drafting a 100-page document, I recommend the parent appoint someone who really knows how they think and will make the best possible substituted judgement whenever that time comes.

The timing to make these documents is crucial. If the parent waits too late, two bad things can happen. The first is that the parent may have an acute health crisis and have no documents that state their intent. That can throw even the most loving family into turmoil. While it’s possible to sign documents in the hospital, it’s hard on everyone when that’s the first time I meet someone. The second is that the parent may no longer have the mental capacity to express their intent. That may require the family to have a guardian appointed, which is an expensive, lengthy, and unpleasant process.

Recognizing caregivers in November is probably not an accident. Many families get together for the holidays, and it’s not uncommon for adult children to recognize that their parents have aged and may need some help while they are together for the holidays. If that happens to you, don’t put off contacting an experienced estate planning lawyer about the best way to help you take care of mom and dad.