For this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Robert Brokamp and Alison Southwick bring in an outside expert to discuss one of the more fraught and complex challenges that many of us will face as adults: becoming a primary caregiver for an aging loved one. It's a position that can sap your time, your energy, your emotions and your finances -- and that's when things are going normally. In addition to being a pro on the subject, their guest, the AARP's Amy Goyer, has traveled this path with multiple family members, and she has plenty of straightforward, actionable advice to share.

In this segment, she has a few suggestions for those who haven't planned this out in advance and are caught flat-footed -- usually in the wake of a medical crisis -- by the news that they must become a caregiver.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Sept. 4, 2018.

Robert Brokamp: Let's say someone's in this situation suddenly. Often this happens because someone goes into the hospital and they then have to be taken care of. Just from a triage standpoint, what are the first steps someone should take when they suddenly become a caregiver?

Amy Goyer: First you have to assess the situation, and you want to assess it in terms of what your loved ones' needs are, first of all. What is their health condition? Really try to get a good handle on that and understand going forward what's going to happen. That's where you talk to the doctors. You talk to the social workers. You talk to the nurses and try to understand what their capabilities will be going forward, and what kind of rehab they're going to need. Is my dad ever going to walk again, or is he going to have a hard rehab and that's our goal, to get him walking again? To understand that situation.

And then, in any kind of a crisis like that, you have to figure out roles. So what's your role at that point? Are you the person who's got power of attorney so you know this is your role? It's to take charge and organize everyone, or has that not been discussed? You're one of siblings and then everybody's trying to figure out their roles.

I do think it's really important to figure out clear roles, and even if they're temporary, get a clear idea, because otherwise you get duplication. You get, "Well, I looked this up and found this." Or, "No, I think we should do this." It doesn't mean that you can't discuss decisions and that sort of thing. I never made a decision without talking it over with my sister, but I had the ultimate authority to make the decisions just because legally I did.

You want to figure out those roles and then you've really got to gather all those documents. Someone has a fall. They're in the hospital. Everything changes. What are we going to do now? Where is the power of attorney? It's been with my sister. I knew she had sent me a copy of her power of attorney. I was so focused on caring for my parents, I didn't even look at it. I just knew I had it on my computer. I then came to find out she hadn't signed it.

So I was able to go to her house and dig through documents and finally found an older version that she had signed and it still designated me, so it wasn't terribly different. I was lucky. But I didn't know where anything else was, so we had to just search and search through paperwork. That was huge stress on top of this situation.

So try and find all those documents. Locate everything. Go back to your plan. If you've been prepared, you will have some kind of a framework of, "If this happens, we'll do this," as much as possible. Make sure that you do that and then get help, especially in a crisis. It's kind of like having children. You're not really born knowing how to do these things, so you need to get help.

Talking to the hospital's social worker or discharge planner is really key. I always say to start talking with a discharge planner the day after you're admitted. Don't wait until the very end, because you're going to need time to research options. Make decisions. Maybe find a different living situation or a temporary rehab. They can do a lot of things. They generally have lists and they can connect you with community services.

Everywhere in the country has an Area Agency on Aging. It's part of the Administration on Aging from the federal level. It goes down and then every state has a State Unit on Aging. Then they divide up the state in these areas. And they're the ones who really coordinate home-based and community-based services. They fund a lot of services. Sometimes they actually provide services. They know the lay of the land.

It might be a multicounty area. In Arizona and Phoenix, Maricopa County has one Area Agency on Aging. But that is a great call to make to find out what's available in your loved one's area. For example, maybe adult day care is an option, where they can't be home alone all day anymore, and I can't send them home to be home alone, but I can get them out of the hospital and get them home if I know that they're going to adult day care every day and then we have other things in the evening.

So find out what's available. Reach out there. Your Area Agency on Aging you can find by going to the Elder Care Locator. That's at And I can repeat those websites later. But those are kind of the big things.

And especially in a crisis, we're not prepared. Our loved ones aren't prepared, but we're not prepared, so think about what else is going on in your life. Caregiving doesn't happen in a vacuum. You've got work, and you've got your home, and you've got your family, and your pets, and your volunteer work and whatever your obligations are. So in that crisis time [somebody's in the hospital], be sure to think of how you're going to deal with that.

60% of family caregivers are working, so that's a big issue. It's good to know that if you know that you're moving into these years, just look into what options you have at work. Is there any flexibility? Can I telecommute? Is there caregiving leave? AARP now offers that for their employees and it's a trend we're seeing with extra time off just for caregiving for someone else. Not your own sick time. So find out what your options are for work. Can someone back you up? And then you're home. What are the plans? Who's going to feed the dog? All those types of things.