When caregivers intervene to help aging relatives, they must be mindful of potential challenges that can arise, including behavioral issues and accusations of fraud. Sometimes things start off on the right foot, but especially if there is a cognitive decline, things can land on a sour note unexpectedly. Here are some steps well-meaning caregivers can take to protect themselves:

  1. Maintain transparent communication: Establish open and honest lines of communication with both the aging relative and other family members who are along for the journey. Inform them of your intentions, actions, and/or decisions regarding the care of the senior. While effective communication can cull most troubles, keep in mind you don’t “owe” it to keep any and everyone informed. And in certain circumstances, you may need to safeguard information. You may also benefit by putting care options and their costs in context. Not everyone has done the research you have. Not everyone has cared for someone and knows the work involved. For example, when mentioning the cost of assisted living is $8,000/month to a lower-income friend or relative, they may feel you’re taking the most expensive route because they have no context to the situation. Read more on this, “When Parents and Siblings Don’t Get Along.”

  2. Document your actions: Keep detailed records of your caregiving activities, including financial transactions, medical appointments, and any decisions made on behalf of the senior. These records can serve as evidence of your good intentions and help refute any accusations of fraud. This is also useful if you draft a caregiver agreement where you may be compensated for your time/services.

  3. Seek legal advice if needed: Consult with an attorney who specializes in elder law or family law to understand your rights, responsibilities, and potential legal implications as a caregiver. They can provide guidance on establishing legal documents, such as powers of attorney or guardianship, to ensure clarity and protection. They can also help you avoid the pitfalls of poor estate planning.

  4. Avoid conflicts of interest: Steer clear of any financial transactions or decisions that could be seen as benefiting you personally, especially if they conflict with the best interests of the senior. One that comes up quite a bit is related to annual gifting. Make sure any gifts made to yourself or others is in line with the senior’s values, estate plans, and doesn’t create an issue for the senior covering their own needs. And if you’re intentionally planning for Medicaid, make sure you keep the 5-year look back in mind. Maintain transparency in financial matters and consult with professionals, such as accountants or financial advisors, to ensure proper management.

  5. Involve other family members or a neutral third party: Engage other family members or a trusted third party, such as a social worker or mediator, to participate in discussions and decision-making processes. Having additional perspectives and witnesses can help prevent misunderstandings and accusations. Powwow has aided in this effort to ensure everyone feels heard and hears all points of view.

  6. Stay informed about local regulations: Familiarize yourself with the relevant laws and regulations related to caregiving, financial management, and elder abuse in your jurisdiction. Complying with these regulations can provide an additional layer of protection.

  7. Prioritize self-care: Caring for aging relatives can be emotionally and physically demanding. Take care of your own well-being by seeking support from support groups, therapists, or respite care services. Maintaining your own mental and physical health will better equip you to handle any challenges that may arise.

It’s important to note that the specific steps to protect oneself can vary depending on local laws and individual circumstances. Seeking professional advice from attorneys, elder care experts, or social workers is always recommended to ensure the best course of action for your specific situation.