National Family Caregivers Month: What to consider when you first become a caregiver

November 17, 2016 – November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to think about the millions of Americans who take care of others. This year’s theme is “take care to give care”, a reminder that the first rule of taking care of others is to take care of yourself first. In acknowledgment of National Family Caregivers Month, WISER is publishing a series of blogs examining caregiving and the ways women can take care of themselves by planning for its financial impact.

Taking on the role of caregiver is an overwhelming experience. It often requires one to act and make decisions quickly at a time of emotional trauma and with little background knowledge. In addition, because caregiving work is so personal and often takes place within families, people often don’t speak much about it with friends or in the public, leading to the mistaken belief that it is easy or not emotionally taxing. Imagine being thrown unexpectedly into a 24-hour job for which you may have no experience, yet are expected to perform perfectly and without pay? That is the experience of many caregivers.

The financial aspect of family caregiving can be the most challenging aspect of the role as unforeseen expenses begin to pile up. Although it can be overwhelming, there are a number of initial steps you can take to plan and prepare for the financial impact of caregiving. The first step is to talk to your siblings and other family members about the various costs involved in providing care.  Caregivers who live with or live near the family member they care for tend to spend more time caregiving than others, so communication between family members is key- make sure they know the cost both in time and dollars that are involved and talk about how you can all help contribute. Keep in mind that you may need to hire services for your family member, such as transportation services, home health aides, or visiting nurses. In addition, you may need to make some modifications to your home to accommodate your loved one, such as bathroom grab bars, a hospital bed on the first floor, or a ramp. These costs add up quickly. If you are providing most of the care, consider asking your family to pay you as an independent contractor. If you are paid, you can even set up a small-employer type pension plan, such as a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP).

Family caregiving can cause disagreements within families over responsibilities and decisions.  Many families may find it beneficial to create a legal document known as a “personal care agreement” that state what care is provided and how much the caregiver will be compensated. These agreements make the care and payment clear for the caregiver, the recipient, and also for other family members. It can help avoid family conflicts about who will provide care and how much they will be paid. More information on personal care agreements is available in WISER’s Financial Steps for Caregivers booklet.

Stay tuned for more blog posts this month about ways to avoid compromising your own financial security while caring for others. In the meantime, check out WISER’s Financial Steps for Caregivers booklet which includes lots of great information and resources to get you started.

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