This article considers the nurse's role in assisting family (informal) carers who adopt their role suddenly, following an acute health crisis. Carers of stroke survivors are used as a 'paradigm' case to highlight the challenges faced by family members at the time of hospital discharge. The needs of family members who suddenly adopt a caring role are poorly understood, but greater awareness is needed as the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act (1995) provides statutory recognition of the rights of such individuals to an assessment of their needs, emphasizing the importance of carers making an informed choice based on a willingness and ability to adopt a care-giving role. Evidence suggests that new family carers are currently poorly prepared to take on their role, lacking the information and skills needed to provide good care. Nurses have a major role to play in preparing carers, but currently lack a systematic approach to assessment and intervention. Further empirical work is required to establish more clearly the needs of new carers and to develop and evaluate appropriate intervention strategies to address their needs.