I search your eyes,
So empty and blue,
Hoping for a flicker
Of what used to be you.1
If you are the wife, husband, son or daughter of someone with, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, you may be overwhelmed emotionally, physically and financially. You are consumed with the day-to-day care, behaviors like agitation and aggression, hallucinations, safety, communication, and the list goes on-and-on.
Sometimes lost or forgotten amid your daily battles is the fact that help is available. We have many local groups standing ready to help families dealing with these challenging situations (for example, the Alzheimer’s Association and the Michigan Parkinson Foundation). In addition to help from groups like these, I have put together my top seven “hit list” of actions that you MUST take if you and your family are dealing with these diseases.
- Don’t Procrastinate.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are “progressive” diseases (that is, they get worse over time). As a result, all of your action steps – education about the disease, proper caregiving, treatment, steps to protect yourself – are better done sooner than later. I see clients and families who are prepared and those who are unprepared. You will be much better off emotionally, financially and physically if you are properly prepared. The next six steps will show you how to get there.
- Get A Will or Trust (or update your old one).
If you don’t have a Will or Trust you need to get one. If you have an old Will or Trust, you need to get it updated. Your loved one’s mental capacity will only worsen over time. Act while he or she still has the ability to plan. Here’s an example of a problem we see too often. Your husband has Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Your Will is what I call an “I love you” Will – that is, you leave everything to each other. This type of plan doesn’t work where one spouse is likely to be incapacitated in the near future, and here’s why. If you (the “healthy” spouse) die first, all of your assets will go to your husband who is likely to need long-term care in the near future. And if that happens it’s highly likely that those assets will be spent at the nursing home. There are ways to set up your estate plan so if you pass away first, your assets can be used for your husband’s care, but protected from the nursing home and other long-term care costs.
- Update Your Financial Durable Power of Attorney.
Your durable power of attorney allows someone to step in and make financial decisions for you (for example, handle banking, pay bills, etc.). It is very important to put a power of attorney in place when a family member has Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. But not all powers of attorney are created equal. Your power of attorney MUST HAVE “extraordinary powers” which go beyond the powers contained in a standard power of attorney. Why? Because these extraordinary powers are necessary to restructure assets and do the special planning you will need to do for a person with a progressive brain disease. If you don’t have the right power of attorney, you won’t be able to plan for long-term care issues. Also, there were major changes made to Michigan’s power of attorney law in 2012 – it would be wise to update your plan to make sure your power of attorney is updated and has all the right provisions.
- Update Your Medical Powers.
Many people have old and outdated Patient Advocate Designations (this is sometimes called an Advanced Directive or Health Care Power of Attorney). You need to make sure your Patient Advocate Designation names the right person to carry out your medical wishes if you can’t make medical decisions for yourself.
- Consider Applying for Veteran’s Benefits.
If you are a wartime Veteran or the spouse of a wartime Veteran (World War II, Korean War, Vietnam), you may be entitled to receive benefits for home health care or assisted living costs. Take advantage of our free analysis to determine whether you or a loved one may qualify for the benefit known as “Aid & Attendance”. Even if you don’t think you will qualify, you may be pleasantly surprised at your options.
- Consider Asset Protection Planning.
If you or a loved one has the beginning stages of dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, you must recognize that you are statistically much more likely to need long-term care, including skilled nursing care. Knowing that, you should take advantage of “preventive” techniques that allow you to protect your home and life savings from the devastating costs of long-term care. Earlier planning is better.
- Get Help with Placement Decisions.
At times it is necessary to find alternate living arrangements for a loved one with dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. I see clients on a regular basis frantically trying to find the best place for their loved ones. We are blessed in Livingston County to have wonderful and caring placement specialists who will help you make these difficult decisions. For little cost (and sometimes even free), you can get a one-on-one assessment and a list of living options based on your loved one’s condition and your financial means. This is one burden you should hand off to a professional.
Caregiving is an unselfish act of love and loyalty, but it can be confusing and intimidating. Following the above tips will help you avoid being overwhelmed by the day-to-day care of a loved one with dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, and successfully navigate the maze of long-term care options.
My father fought Parkinson’s disease for 17 years before he lost that battle. My mother, brother and I have personally walked all of these paths relating to elder care, estate planning and elder law.
I write this blog as an elder law attorney who has experienced both the legal side and the family side of dementia and long-term care issues. Hopefully my experience can help make the process easier for you and your loved ones. I’ll end with a little slice of a poem I wrote for my father during his final days:
I think I’m staying, and waiting,
To say “Goodbye”.
But the longer I stay,
the longer I wait,
The more I understand,
Not to say “Goodbye”.
But to say,
“I remember. And I will never forget.”2
1 From “Memories on Hold”, by Barbara P. Benjamin
2 From “Your Shell, Your Soul”, by Glenn R. Matecun
Glenn Matecun is one of only 19 Certified Elder Law Attorneys* in the entire State of Michigan . He is a founding member of the National Alliance of Attorneys for Alzheimer’s Planning (N3AP), and his law practice focuses on estate planning, elder law, Medicaid planning, Alzheimer’s and dementia planning, and senior Veterans’ benefits. Glenn is a founding partner of the law firm of Matecun, Thomas & Olson, PLC, and was the former host of Senior Law Radio on WMUZ 103.5 FM. Email questions to [email protected], or if your question is urgent, call (517) 548-7400. Visit us at www.MichiganEstatePlans.com. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.
*Certified as and Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation