Caring for an aging relative is hard work. Many of the people who serve as caregivers admit that they often feel as if they have two jobs—their day job, and the part-to-full-time job of caregiver. If you consider that in our fast-paced society time is money, then most of these caregivers are not only giving up their time, but also their potential income. Caregivers need to know that it doesn’t have to be this way; caregivers can be compensated according to mutually agreed upon terms of a Caregiver Agreement, or Personal-Care Contract.

Elder law attorneys have known about Caregiver Agreements for a long time, but a recent article in the Wall Street Journal will hopefully raise caregiver awareness of this useful contract; especially, as the article mentions, given the “still-fragile” state of the economy. A Caregiver (or Employment) Agreement “should document a caregiver’s responsibilities and hours and set a rate of pay that’s in line with local practices. Both the caregiver and care recipient should sign the contract and disclose it to the rest of the family.”

An agreement of this sort can be useful not only for the care-giver and the cared-for; it also comes in handy if you think you may need to rely on Medi-Cal (known as Medicaid in other states) to cover nursing home costs sometime in the near future.

According to the article, “Before Medicaid will pick up the tab for nursing-home costs, it requires applicants to recoup certain payments made to relatives over the previous five years — and use the money to pay the nursing home… But if payments to relatives are made under the terms of a written employment agreement, often called a personal-care contract, the law allows it.” While the recoupmement term is different in California, the point is well-taken.

But remember, “to pass muster with Medicaid, it’s important to have such a contract in place before the services are rendered.”

This is why it is extremely important to talk to an attorney who is well-versed in elder law and Caregiver Agreements before any contracts are signed or money changes hands.