Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

Protect Yourself and Those You Care For

Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

Protect Yourself and Those You Care For

Article excerpt

As a caregiver, you experience firsthand the physical and psychological challenges presented by long life, illness and disability. You may or may not be exposed to the legal and financial challenges faced by the elder or disabled individual, but these are inevitably issues that must also be addressed. The exorbitant costs and legal obstacles involved in aging and disability are as real as the disabling condition itself. As with most circumstances in life, it is important that you understand how the law affects you before you can properly alert others of impending legal risks that can be avoided by proper planning. I am reminded of the instructions regarding the oxygen masks received at the start of every commercial airline flight you take. If you are traveling with a small child, and the masks are deployed, you must secure your own before you assist the child. If you attempt to take care of the child's first, you may pass out, thus leaving that child unprotected.

There are legal mechanisms to protect us similar to those oxygen masks. I am referring to estate planning. As a caregiver, you are aware that illness and disability can and does strike without regard to a person's age or status, and ultimately whether we ourselves will experience a protracted illness or not, it is inevitable that we will die. This is not an optional event for any of us, and it is always simpler, less painful, and more cost effective to do advance planning than to be forced to react in times of crisis, such as a sudden debilitating medical event like a stroke, heart attack or cancer, or even the slower onset of age related dementia and Alzheimer's.

Most of us know someone who has experienced the trauma that a lack of planning can cause. If not personally, we have heard stories of others going through this stress. In my case, my dad died suddenly at the age of 43. He was a highly educated doctor, very successful in his field. And yet he never prepared his estate plan. Legal issues were not high on his priority list. I was sixteen years old at the time. I remember watching my mom struggle through the probate process, spending so much money on court costs and attorney fees. Once I grew up, I came to realize that this could have been prevented. I also have a developmentally disabled brother cared for by my mom. When she died suddenly at the age of 67, I was left to care for my brother. This meant hiring an attorney to obtain a conservatorship over him in order for me to have the legal authority to help him out. I can remember sitting across the desk from my attorney with reams of financial records in front of me. Because I had no clue about how to do a court accounting, I had created a colossal mess to straighten out. The court investigator had put in his report that in his opinion, I was not performing my job well. I just sat there and told my attorney that if the court could do a better job, let them. This was, of course said with tears in my eyes!

Since then, I have become an attorney myself, and ironically, this is the area I chose to practice in. I have heard those same words cried to me from frustrated clients dealing with the same issues I went through myself when I was on that side of the desk. So often, this entire scene can be avoided with simple legal documents that prevent the need for court involvement when tragedy strikes.

This article will provide you with an overview of how every person is affected by the law as it relates to his or her Healthcare, lifestyle, finances, and ultimately what happens at death. It is my hope that you will make every effort to utilize this knowledge to protect yourself and your family, and having done so, be in a position to spot situations where professional legal assistance is advisable for those you work with and care for.

Let us begin with the basics. A person is presumed to have the legal capacity to make decisions for him/herself. However, there is no guarantee in life that at any time an accident or illness won't occur, leaving you physically or mentally unable to care for your property or to make life care decisions for yourself. …

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