Becoming a Family Caregiver for an Ailing Loved One

Taking on the responsibility of providing full-time care for an aging or disabled loved one can be a rewarding experience. Being a primary caregiver helps you rest assured that your loved one is receiving compassionate care from someone who will go above and beyond to ensure they are comfortable and looked after.

Despite your good intentions to create a comfortable environment for your loved one, full-time caregiving is a significant time commitment. There is also a financial reality that the caregiver must face. Fortunately, family members who want to serve as caregivers may have options to help cover the expense.

What Is a Caregiver, and What Do They Do?

Professional caregivers work intimately with seniors to meet their needs as they age. As individuals get older, their needs change and they may need more help going about their day.

Examples of the kinds of help caregivers provide include:

  • Bathing and grooming
  • Help with toileting
  • Medical appointments and medication compliance
  • Transportation
  • Companionship
  • Cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping
  • Care for animals
  • Laundry
  • Coordinate benefit care/speak to insurance companies on the senior’s behalf, if authorized

Family Caregivers: Know the Downsides

Having a family member serve in the role of caregiver can make for a better experience for your loved one and, in some ways, give you peace of mind as well. However, there are some downsides to be aware of if you are considering becoming a family caregiver.

Your own health, both physical and emotional, can be negatively affected when taking on the burden of caring for a family member. Be sure to engage in self-care, maintain a healthy diet, and watch out for signs of stress and burnout. When you do need a break, consider looking into respite care.

If your loved one has specific medical issues that will require the attention and expertise of a professional health care provider, you may want to reassess whether you should take on the role of family caregiver.

Taking care of a loved one who is getting older or who is disabled will likely require a great deal of your time, too. You may find yourself not performing as well at work or having a longer commute as you fulfill the needs of your ailing loved one. Not to mention that your own immediate family may be missing out on valuable time with you while you are caregiving elsewhere.

In turn, this could mean you will have less time to hold down a full-time job. In fact, a 2020 AARP survey showed that about 20 percent of family caregivers reported experiencing a high level of financial stress. Nearly 30 percent of them stopped saving altogether as a result of providing care for their loved one.

In these challenging economic times, you must be able to support yourself while ensuring the best care for your aging family member.

Can Family Members Get Paid for Their Work as a Caregiver?

Fortunately, certain programs are available to help family members care for ailing relatives. You may need to do a bit of research to find the right option for your circumstances.

  • Medicaid Self-Directed Care

For individuals on Medicaid, the Medicaid Self-Directed Care Program is one option that gives them the authority to manage their services. In certain states, this program offers recipients the ability to use the resources allocated for home care to pay a family member to help them with their daily needs. The Medicaid Self-Directed Care Program lets seniors have more autonomy over their care.

Note that such programs vary by state, however, and not all states will have an option like this. Each state may also use different criteria to define who qualifies as a “family” caregiver. Find your local Area Agency on Aging to learn more about the possibilities, or call your local Medicaid agency.

It is also critically important that any payments to family members be properly documented and authorized in writing through the use of a Caregiver Agreement which is in compliance with Medicaid rules.  In the absence of a well-drafted caregiver agreement, payments to family members can be viewed as a “gift” or “divestment” which may disqualify the person receiving such services from Medicaid benefits. 

Note that, generally, Medicare will not cover the costs of caregiving by a family member.

  • Veteran’s Benefits

If your loved one is a military veteran, there are special benefits available to cover their home care, including the Veteran’s Directed Home and Community Based Services program. This program gives veterans a flexible spending budget that the veteran can use to pay a family member to act as their caregiver.

  • National Family Caregiver Support Program

Note that this program does not pay caregivers directly. Rather, it helps fund several different types of services for family caregivers, from training in caregiving to respite care. Learn more about this program.

  • Long-Term Care Insurance

If you are thinking ahead to who will care for you as you age, you may consider long-term care insurance when creating an estate plan. Certain long-term care insurance policies allow the policyholder to pay family members to work as caregivers. However, that is not true for every policy. Some policies do not allow policyholders to pay family members to work as caregivers if they live in the policyholder’s home.

Before making a decision to enter into an arrangement with a family member to provide long-term care, it is important to talk to a qualified Elder Law attorney to review your options and legal ramifications. At  Wenzel Bennett  Harris PC , we provide a Long-Term Care Consultation, which includes a discussion of these options. We can assist in  creating the proper documentation using Caregiver Agreements which meet Medicaid requirements. Call us at 989-356-6128 to schedule a Long-Term Care Consult.

If you have specific questions about your situation or would like to learn more, reach out to the team at WBH here.

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