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By Ryan McNeill, Attorney at Law

November is National Family Caregivers Month and Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Whenever someone receives a diagnosis of dementia, memory loss, Alzheimer’s or any other condition affecting memory and retention, it places a true hardship on the individual and their loved ones.

After the initial diagnosis will come the recognition that both the patient’s and caregivers’ lives will change significantly. The impacted individual will likely see emotional, cognitive, and eventually physical changes that will impact their lives. While it may seem overwhelming, there are certain steps that can be taken to help make the situation more manageable.

Get your medical team in place.

Dementia is typically a progressive condition. There are a multitude of treatments, medications, clinical trials, and therapies which may help slow, alter or ease the condition. Find a medical team you trust and make sure you communicate regularly so the needs of the affected are being met. Utilize existing resources to help understand what you can expect on this unplanned journey.

Formally designate a healthcare power of attorney and complete your advance directive forms. Provide copies to your designee, medical team and the hospital.

As the condition progresses, the person who is suffering may become less capable of communicating his/her needs, desires and symptoms with the family and the medical team. It will be critical to have a person who is legally designated to make health related decisions and to work with the medical team on behalf of the individual. The healthcare power of attorney  is a document that is recognized by the legal and the medical systems. It authorizes the person named the right to receive medical information on the patient’s behalf and make decisions as needed regarding care and treatment.

Gather and review all insurance policies.

A diagnosis of a memory disorder will often result in the need to plan for long term care – whether with a loved one who may need to leave their job to provide care, paid in-home assistance, or even a full-service memory care facility. No matter which care plan is needed, there are typically considerable expenses related to caring for someone with a memory disorder.

The first obvious step is reviewing your health care insurance policy to see what treatments and medications will be covered, what deductibles will need to be met each year, and other considerations. If the impacted individual was employed at the time of the diagnosis, will COBRA coverage be affordable when they are unable to continue working, or are other health insurance options available?

Do not forget to look at all insurance policies. Short-term disability, long term disability, long term care, or even life insurance policies might provide additional financial benefits on behalf of the affected and should be reviewed and executed.

Gather and review all financial accounts and assets.

It is important that you have a complete picture of a person’s financial well-being to help in the planning of care and treatment. It may be worthwhile to consolidate financial assets to make them easier to manage.

If the person with memory loss has been handling his or her own finances, they should plan to sit down (if possible) with the loved one who will be helping them through this trying time. A person may have savings accounts or financial assets that they have kept private or not shared with others. Eventually, the person will no longer be able to manage these assets and may even forget about their existence. As such, it is imperative to communicate with the person to make sure that nothing of value slips thru the cracks.

There are several effective ways to handle these financial accounts and assets, the most common being a financial power of attorney, which is sometimes called the durable power of attorney. Just as the individual designates a person to make healthcare decisions on their behalf, they can also plan to name a financial power of attorney. This legal document will give that person the right to make decisions and take actions regarding financial matters for the subject who is in failing health. It is imperative that this designation take place while the person who has been diagnosed still has the mental capacity to make such designation. A financial power of attorney may be revocable if explicitly stated and terminates upon the principal’s death, at which time the executor of the estate assumes such responsibility.

Other options include adding a person to the financial accounts as an owner or creating a revocable living trust. There are pros and cons to each approach, so it may be worth your time to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Should the individual fail to have put the necessary, properly executed legal documents in place (financial and medical powers of attorney) while they are still competent to do so, the courts could assign a conservatorship or guardianship to manage the financial decisions and/or medical care for the afflicted. These options require court action and take time to implement.

We recommend every individual have these types of legal documents in place well before they are needed. If you are an adult (18+), you should have the appropriate documents in place. If the affected individual does not already have plans in place, then it is best to make the decisions as soon as possible after diagnosis.

Identify and review the last will and testament.

A last will and testament details how assets are to be distributed upon death. By reviewing this document early, any designee noted in a power of attorney or living trust can help ensure that the wishes of the affected are carried out as intended.

Contact a qualified legal professional to help you navigate the course of action needed when dealing with a diagnosis of dementia, memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. Contact Brinkley Walser Stoner today to schedule an appointment.