Throughout the caregiving transition, you will no doubt require the services of an elder care attorney. You may be surprised, or even angered if you, the primary caregiver, are not included in the discussions.
Even if you set the appointment, if your charge is mentally impaired or if you are now the primary decision maker, elder law professionals are frequently required to meet with your family member or friend alone - there is no need to be offended! Elder care attorneys are trained to follow ethical guidelines that promote the dignity, quality of life and independence of its clients - your loved one.
Who is the Client?
Not the caregiver but the individual who is being cared for. The client is the ONLY one the elder care attorney has a professional responsibility to serve. Though you are the primary caregiver, or your loved one may be incapacitated, it is important to understand that elder care law was designed to serve the client, or clients (in cases where clients are married).
Avoiding Conflict of Interest
In most cases, elder care attorneys have a legal and ethical obligation to represent only one individual in the case. If you and your loved one disagree on caregiving, it is the attorney's responsibility to represent your loved one's interests. This especially comes into play when legal planning involves power of attorney and property issues.
Keeping a Secret
Elder care attorneys have an obligation to protect the confidentiality of their clients. The attorney may or may not be able to share information with you - it depends on the situation, gaining your loved one's approval to share information. Your loved one's attorney will likely strive to keep you and your family informed of all the issues and costs relating to your loved one, but may not be free to divulge complete information.
Diminished Mental Capacity
Because many of their clients have diminished capacities for decision makers, elder law attorneys have been specially trained to treat the impaired person with the same respect every other client is afforded. This may mean your loved one spends a great deal of time talking to the attorney, to your frustration. Try to remember that the attorney is working to ensure the transition to in home care for the elderly is a smooth one. Even persons with early stages of Alzheimer's are able to provide simple explanations as to what the problem is and what is needed from the elder law professional. You will be asked to clarify (or in some cases verify) anything he/she may not remember or understand.
Also, remember that the attorney is assessing their client's capacity to make decisions during these discussions. Family members tend to want to answer all the questions for the geriatric client, making it difficult to know what the client's abilities are. Other seniors may not be able to explain the need and problem adequately. But his or her elder care attorney will need to meet privately to ascertain this.
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-- Kim Thies