Legal and Financial Matters when Considering Long Term Care for an Elder

When you consider long-term care needs for an elder in your family, you should also review other legal and financial matters. An elderly person who needs long-term care may have increasingly difficulty taking care of personal matters; this is usually a good time to review legal and financial documents and arrangements.

Health Care Directives

When long-term care becomes necessary, the elder should start preparing to make decisions about future health care choices. In particular, they need to think about what kind of medical treatments they would like to receive if they become terminally ill or are no longer able to communicate their wishes about their medical care.

To make sure the elder’s medical choices are respected, they can create two basic legal documents:

A medical directive (sometimes called a living will or advanced health care directive), which sets forth the type of care they wish to receive if they become incapacitated.

A durable power of attorney for health care, in which they name someone they trust to make sure that they get the kind of medical care they want and in some cases, to make the decisions about their medical care if they are unable to do so.

Durable Powers of Attorney for Finances

The elder needing help will want to make sure that someone will make financial decisions in accordance with their wishes if they are no longer able to handle their financial matters on their own. A durable power of attorney for finances can take effect right away or only if and when the elder becomes legally incompetent to handle their own financial decisions. It can help ensure that their finances are handled as they wish, by someone they trust, without the expensive, cumbersome, and time-consuming prices of going to court.


Although an elder’s need for long-term care certainly does not mean that death is imminent, it may be a signal of decreasing competence to make decisions about income, assets and estate. It is a good idea to review any existing will (which may be old and out of date) and to make a new will that meets the wishes of the elder.

However, if there is any question about an older person’s mental competence to make a new will, or about whether the elder’s decisions about leaving property to others, might be unduly influenced by another person, consult with a lawyer who specializes in wills and probate matters before taking action.

Living Trusts

A living trust is a legal document that allows you to retain control over your property during your lifetime and arrange for that property to be transferred, at your death, to beneficiaries you name, all without going through probate. You designate what property goes into the trust and who gets it when you die. During your lifetime, you act as the trustee, and you have the right to change the trust property, change the beneficiary or revoke the trust all together. On your death, the trust property is distributed directly to the named beneficiaries, without going through probate or any legal proceeding.

By considering all the ramifications of caring for the elder in your family you will be able to give the best care possible along with fulfilling their wishes physically and financially. In the event that you need assistance to handle these matters, a health care advocate can assist you and your family.

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