Family vs professional care - part 3: what happens if a carer becomes ill or dies?

When valuing family care it may be a sensible precaution to make allowances for the possibility that family carers will become unable to care due to ill health or death. This is distinct from the natural inability to carry out onerous care into old age, which can be foreseen; I tend to think that we should take 65 as the sort of age beyond which family members should consider changing care arrangements to allow them to "retire", if they have not already decided to put in place a care system which uses professionals. It is the unexpected inability to continue to care which is difficult, because our method of valuation means that, if family carers become unavailable, there will not be enough money to pay professionals. For that reason, it is prudent to insure the relevant family carers against ill health or death, so that in either event a lump sum is provided by the insurance policy which will cover the difference between the value put on family care and the cost of professional support. When families visit the injured person in hospital, it is sometimes strongly arguable that they are providing care, and should be compensated not only for the travel expense but also for the time spent. The same might apply where the family learn rehabilitation techniques during the early rehabilitation process, which they then apply themselves when early rehabilitation has finished.

Respite care is sometimes vital in preserving the family carers' ability to cope. Looking after a severely injured loved one can be enormously tiring, so much so that it is not uncommon to find that family members have visited their doctor for treatment for nervous exhaustion. This can perhaps be avoided by the early use of respite care. A difficulty which arises though, is that both the injured person and the family sometimes resist the notion of any outside care, however difficult the circumstances.

A separate problem is mentioned above, namely the difficulty which is bound to arise when parents die. In some cases this will not create a specific problem (other than the normal bereavement), because the injured person will have been injured so badly that he or she will not live as long as normal, and will die before their parents become too old. I am sorry this is blunt, but it is an area where one simply cannot afford to overlook reality. In many cases, the injured person has a normal life expectancy, which may mean that his or her parents will become too old to do any physical caring well before the end of the client's natural life span. If we anticipate that parents stop caring for the injured person after the age of 65; regardless of how fit and active they are and agree they are entitled to leisure and retirement at that age (remember, looking after a patient is a job). Sometimes they say that, when they become unavailable (by which they mean they have become unable to cope) a brother or sister will take over. They may or may not have discussed this amongst the family, but somehow the notion that a married man or woman, quite possibly with children, will take over the care does not seem to strike them as unrealistic. Again, they tell me that this is what families are for; I admire that very much, but I cannot accept that entire families should sacrifice their lives in this way, when someone else was responsible for the injury, and when an alternative is available.

If, after careful consideration following detailed explanation of the principles, the family decide to take on the role of carers, then as I have said above they can consider insuring their lives and health so that, if they become unable to care for the injured person before the time anticipated in the Plan for Life, the proceeds of the insurance policy will fund the difference between the cost of the professional care which is now necessary and the value of parental care as assessed by the court.

Having said all that, I do emphasise that I am not encouraging anyone to choose the expensive option for the sake of it; as I have said several times previously, I would always advise clients to make their choices sensibly and reasonably, without worrying about the effect on the case.