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7 Must-Know Legal Terms for Caregivers

As your loved one’s health changes, you may find yourself assuming more responsibility for his or her affairs. Knowing these seven terms can help to ensure your loved one’s rights are considered, needs are met, and wishes are honored.

Elder Law Attorney

As the name suggests, these lawyers specialize in the needs of older clients. Services typically include estate planning, long-term care guidance, and coordinating the financing of such care. Their expertise can be invaluable in helping to navigate the many issues that may arise in caring for an aging friend or family member.


When a person can no longer tend to his or her own affairs, it may be necessary to appoint a guardian. This is done through a formal legal process that includes a public hearing and decision by a judge.

Health Care Proxy

This designation allows another person (the health care agent) the power to make health care decisions for someone who is unable to do so for him- or herself. It may be very broad or apply to only specific treatments. In any case, health care professionals must honor the directions of the agent just as if they were those of the patient.

Living Trust

This document allows a person to bypass the time and expense of court oversight (probate) in distributing property after his or her death. This is done by transferring one’s assets and naming the beneficiaries (recipients) during one’s lifetime. An irrevocable living trust cannot be cancelled by its creator and may also help protect property when seeking Medicaid coverage for such services as home health care or nursing homes.

Living Will

Describes a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment in the event he or she is unable to provide instructions at the time of treatment. It often lays out the kinds of life-prolonging or resuscitation measures desired. Note that it differs from a health care proxy in that no third person (agent) is involved. Having both options in place may give you and your loved one added peace of mind.

Patient Review Instrument (PRI)

An assessment by a registered nurse (RN) required before an individual can be placed into a skilled nursing facility. PRIs address the kind of care and facility needed, and are valid for 30 days.

Power of Attorney/Durable Power of Attorney

  • A power of attorney is a document that gives one person (the agent) the authority to act on behalf of another (the principal). It may be “general,” covering a wide range of the principal’s financial matters, or “limited” to specific acts or powers.
  • A durable power of attorney is different from the ordinary kind in a very important way—it is not affected by the subsequent disability or incapacity of the principal. This can be crucial in that the agent will not have to undergo a lengthy and/or costly guardianship proceeding in order to handle the principal’s affairs. In New York State, health care proxies and powers of attorney must be separate documents.

For more information on legal terms, please see NYC Caregiver.

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