What You Need to Know as a Cancer Caregiver

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Legal issues

We have already referred to some legal issues:

  • Consent for the doctor or health care team to share information with you or others (see the section, “Communication”)
  • Job protections related to your and the patient’s work (see the section: “Job, insurance, and money concerns”)

Are there other legal issues I should know about?

It may be hard to talk about, but legal issues can be a huge source of stress for caregivers, patients, and families. Common worries include who will manage the person’s money and who will make important health care decisions if the patient is unable to do so. It’s important to bring these up with the patient while he or she is still able to make choices, so that you and the rest of the family can be clear about what the patient wants.

If the person with cancer becomes unable to manage their own money

There are surrogate decision-making tools that may help you and the patient. One example is the durable power of attorney, which allows the patient to choose the person who can make financial decisions on behalf of the patient. (This is quite different from the durable power of attorney for health care, which is discussed below.) The durable power of attorney does not affect health decisions. If you are the health caregiver, you might want to consider asking the patient to let someone else make the financial decisions.

If the person with cancer becomes unable to make health care decisions

A durable power of attorney for health care has nothing to do with money or finances, only health care decisions. It allows the patient to choose someone to make health care decisions if he or she becomes unable to do so. Many times, this is a close family member, partner, or spouse who is aware of the health condition and the patient’s wishes. The caregiver is a logical choice in many cases, given their knowledge of the patient and their condition. But it becomes more difficult when the patient and the caregiver have different goals and values. For instance, if the patient is nearing the end of life and wishes to stop treatment, and the caregiver is still looking for a cure, it may not work the way the patient wants. For more information on living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care, see our document called Advance Directives.

Attorneys can help with difficult issues

In some cases, such as consent for the health care team to share information, legal issues can be handled without a lawyer (attorney at law). But there are times when one may be needed. In cases where there is disagreement about advance directives or durable powers of attorney among family members and loved ones, a lawyer can help. The lawyer can talk with the patient and draw up documents that say exactly who makes decisions for the patient if he or she becomes unable to do so. Or the patient may want to say what to do or what not to do in certain health-related situations.

Last Medical Review: 03/05/2014
Last Revised: 04/28/2014