Alzheimer’s Planning is not something that any of us want to think about. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease. Another statistic they have shared with us is that 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for those with this disease. If you are a Family Caregiver for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s disease, you are among this group of people and are walking along the steps of this very difficult path.
Obviously not all Family Caregivers are providing care for a Loved One suffering with Alzheimer’s. It is estimated that there are over 40 million Family Caregivers providing care for the declining Senior in their lives. But as you can see, the number of Alzheimer’s caregivers are a significant portion of this total.
It doesn’t matter if your Loved One has Alzheimer’s or not. There are steps that should be taken to help map out the best “going forward” plan possible.
Stage One – Alzheimer’s Planning With An Early Diagnosis
At the very early stages there may still be time for them to take action. But, Alzheimer’s planning must be priority, and in high gear! Talk to their doctor to see if they still have capacity to understand issues and make reasoned decisions. If this is the case, this is a gift that should not be taken for granted. Capacity can slip away very quickly. If your loved one wants your assistance, it’s important to discuss:
- What type of care do they want should their condition worsen?
- Where would they want to receive care?
- Finances? How will their care be financed?
- Legal? Have they done their estate planning? If so, has it been reviewed lately? If they have not done it, will they do so?
If they have received a diagnosis, have they met with their family to discuss these issues. It’s not an easy discussion to have. However, it will be very helpful to get better organized and to get everything in place.
A plan for the declining senior needs to be crafted that will work well for them going forward. The plan needs to be crafted so that it will not only meet the needs of the declining senior. It is important that it will also be workable for the family that loves and cares for the senior.
Next Steps towards successful Alzheimer’s Planning:
Many times people “just don’t want to know” so they bury their head in the sand and don’t seek medical assistance until it’s obvious that there is a significant problem. This approach nullifies any medical assistance that may have been provided early on AND if planning is not done, it nullifies any legal planning that could have been done while the person still had capacity.
If you suspect that your Loved One is cognitively declining, it’s important to get them to a medical professional sooner rather than later.
Stage Two – Alzheimer’s Planning When Capacity Is Gone
In this stage, Mom or Dad has lost their ability to reason and you are doing everything for them. If this is the case, hopefully some planning has been done. Whether this is the case or not, you are still doing everything you can to help.
Even though Mom or Dad may not be able to participate in the Alzheimer’s planning process, if they are relying on you for assistance, there may be things that you can do to help. A few (of the potentially many) things you may want to consider are:
Home Care Functional Improvements
If Mom’s decision is to remain at home for as long as possible, do changes need to be made to that home to make it more functional as her cognitive or physical health declines? For example, does she need to widen the doors (exterior and interior) to allow for safe passage of wheelchairs? Does the house need a wheelchair ramp? What about rails in the halls, grab bars in the bathrooms, walk-in tubs and many other low and high-tech enhancements that would allow a declining Senior to remain at home?
Do you know the nature, extent and location of your parents’ assets? Most of the Adult Kids I have assisted don’t have a clue. They have been busy with their lives and the topic of personal finances has never been discussed with their parents. However, as a parent starts to decline, this is an important (but probably uncomfortable) discussion to have. Where is their money? Can it be easily withdrawn to use for their care? Will there be penalties or tax hits on withdrawal? Who is authorized to access it?
Does Mom or Dad have legal documents and where are they located? They may have documents that are fine OR they may no longer be relevant. For example, they may have been drafted when you were a baby when the primary focus was nominating a guardian to provide for your care if Mom and Dad died before you became an adult. Some documents were appropriate then but are not appropriate now. Some documents are even counterproductive and need to be reviewed or changed. If your Mom or Dad has not done any estate planning (like an estimated 70% of America) and no planning documents exist, it’s important to meet with an Elder Law Attorney to see what planning options may be available to you.
If Mom or Dad has lost capacity, it may be way too late for them to sign any legal documents, but sometimes there are still planning actions that can be taken to improve the situation. This is especially true if a Nursing Home placement is an option that is being considered down the road. We see so many people spend down everything, when with some proper planning, some of those assets could have been preserved.
Preserving assets is important in any situation, but is especially important where the “well” spouse is at home. The well spouse may still have a clear mind but may need assistance with some of their activities of daily living. The cost of care at home can exceed the cost of Nursing Home care, so it’s important to do what you can to preserve assets for their benefit.
Next Step for complete Alzheimer’s Planning:
If you find yourself at this later stage and discover that no planning has been done, it’s especially important to meet with your Elder Law Attorney as soon as possible. If you are in Arkansas and need to meet, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s important to start the planning process as soon as possible, but better results can be achieved by starting the planning process, even at the last minute, than by not doing any planning at all.
Meet with medical, legal and financial professionals, then schedule a Mom Centered Family Meeting, to rally the troops. Even late stage planning done after parents have lost capacity can sometimes yield good results.
At ELP, we work to protect you!
We work with people to do various types of estate planning. There is no one size fits all plan and no plan is categorically better than others. The key is to meet with your attorney (hopefully us!) to discuss your unique situation and have a plan crafted that is best for you. If you or your declining parent is not 100% sure of their beneficiary designations, please be proactive and give us a call before you (or they) lose capacity.
Without a properly flexible plan, how will you care for your declining Loved One, be there for your family, get work done, and pivot in the event of a crisis? What about cost? How will you pay for it all? If you make the Assisted Living Facility choice, how long will the money last? Together, we can craft a proactive plan! Lets get started protecting your assets!
If you, or someone you know, are from Arkansas and would benefit from more information like this, be sure to sign up for our free Arkansas Newsletter by going to https://elp.legal/arknews.
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We have covered some legal topics in this edition and as always, I want to emphasize that (1) the law is different in every state, so if you live in a state other than Arkansas, just know that the law may be totally different in your state; (2) your situation is unique, so one size doesn’t fit all – meaning what we discuss herein may not be right for you; (3) we have purposely over-simplified many of the topics above (otherwise this would be many pages long and unreadable because of all of the legalize). It is imperative that you meet with your attorney (hopefully us!) and get a plan that will work for you. Please don’t attempt DIY Estate Planning based on what you read in this (or any) article AND don’t try to go it alone. Please consider this, get your questions answered and take action.