What is My Legal Liability as a Caretaker of a Family Member?

Sun, Jul 29, 2012

Guardianship

What is my legal liability as a caretaker of a family member?This is a broad question. Liability for your family members depends on the familial relationship and any legal papers signed setting up a caretaker relationship. We all know we are responsible for our children. Therefore, we will limit this discussion to a caregiving relationship involving care of a parent or similar adult family member.

Oftentimes there are loosely arranged caretaker arrangements where close family members know someone is providing care of an adult relative. This type of arrangement means that perhaps you are providing meals and driving them to shopping trips or doctors. This type of care is not more than most people would provide to a friend or family. The liability involved here is limited—nothing more than any other type of similar situation would have. There are issues to be aware of like liability in case of an accident or slip and fall, etc. However, we should all have these issues in the back of our mind on a daily basis.

However–if you are around someone enough to feel they can no longer take care of themselves, you are under obligation to report it to Adult Protective Services if you are unable to provide care and/or the person refuses to get help. Adult Protective Services can help evaluate the situation or they can offer you advice in getting help for the person in need. Florida offers these types of services through the Florida Department of Children and Families. The Florida State Statutes addressed Adult Protective Services in Chapter 415. Reporting abuse or neglect is discussed, as are the services available to adults in need of protection.

If someone is no longer able to care for themselves or unable to make good decisions, there are legally binding relationships like guardianships that allow for their care. These arrangements require the guardian to have some liability for a person under their care. An attorney is required for guardianships because of the delicate nature of the arrangement and to be sure both the guardian and the person being cared for are aware of what is going on. Entering into a guardianship should not be taken lightly. It is akin to being responsible for a child, and should be entered into carefully.

Some of the things that guardians may become responsible for include:

  • Medical care decision
  • Financial matters
  • Housing arrangements
  • Disposition of property, such as houses and personal property

Several types of guardianships can be arranged—VA guardianships, guardianships for elderly adults, and guardianships for people who are unable to take care of themselves for various reasons that might include mental handicaps. The type of guardianship entered into will decide what the legal liability the guardian would have.

Those who are concerned about their legal liability as Power of Attorney for someone should remember that they are supposed to act in the best interest of the person they have power over. Thus, they should not misrepresent that person or become involved in circumspect dealings. They could be held liable for mishandling funds for the person, as well as entering into shady dealings. Generally, though, the person exercising Power of Attorney is not held liable for dealings that their charge became involved in before the relationship was entered into and is not liable for debts and things they had no control over. This is another type of arrangement that should be carefully discussed with an attorney.

Liability is a tricky issue and not one that can be thoroughly discussed in a blog post. If you have concerns about legal responsibility for a family member, please contact a reputable attorney. SmithLaw has arranged many guardianships and is aware of the ins and outs of those delicate situations. We have seen first-hand how carefully they should be considered before entering into one.

Image: Some rights reserved by Nick J Webb

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