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How To Navigate the Legal World for Alzheimer's Sufferers

Alzheimer's can be a devastating diagnosis for individuals and their families. However, once the diagnosis is made, it is important to get together as a family while the individual with the diagnosis can still participate in the conversation. When you do, here are the steps to take to make sure that all the individual's legal affairs are in order.

Gather Documentation. The most important part of the process is to document where all the assets, liabilities, legal and medical papers are located. This can include all sources of income like pensions, 401ks, brokerage accounts and social security. Liabilities may be an outstanding mortgage, home equity loans or lines of credit, credit cards, car loans or even outstanding student loans. Legal and medical papers may be a will, living will, insurance papers like car, home, life and medical, documentation related to social security and Medicare. This also includes sharing usernames and passwords.

Have Hard Discussions. An Alzheimer's diagnosis can mean long-term care. According to the Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer's patients live 3-11 years on average, however they can also live for more than 20 years, requiring skilled at-home nursing care, moving into a memory care facility or some combination of both. Other things to consider are under what conditions an individual might want life-saving mechanisms to be put in place. These kinds of wishes and financial considerations should be made early in the diagnosis so the patient can express their wishes.

Engage Legal Counsel. Regardless of whether you are able to get through these steps on your own or not, finding good legal counsel can help you navigate the world of elder law. Here are some key issues to discuss:

  • Power of Attorney. Attorneys understand that Powers of Attorney are needed to help doctors, government institutions and other entities to be legally allowed to disclose the patient's information to you. These types of documents can help you pay bills on the patient's behalf or discuss the patient's wishes with regards to medical treatment if they are not able to do so.
  • Long term care. One of the most expensive parts of an Alzheimer's diagnosis can be long-term care. Ask your attorney about benefits available for veterans as wells as county, state and national assistance programs or how Medicare or Medicaid might help.
  • Executor. This is also an opportunity to name an executor for the patient's estate. This means that, in the event the patient passes away, who will be responsible for administering the estate.
  • Incompetence. In the event that the individual is no longer able to make decisions for themselves and has not appointed anyone as their Power of Attorney, a lawyer can step in to help establish guardianship. This is a complex legal procedure, so it is important to find someone skilled in eldercare law.

Once you have gathered the documentation mentioned, you should start to consult with an attorney. Some families find it difficult to have discussions about finances or mortality around the dinner table and would like to confine them to the walls of a lawyer's office. This is fine as long as the discussion is occurring. Once all the paperwork has been completed, all parties involved should have copies on hand. If the person with dementia is too far along to participate in the conversation, the family or friends who are closest should begin the discussion with the attorney with regards to guardianship or conservatorship, when a judge appoints a responsible person or organization, to be responsible for the adult.

While these are very hard decisions, the Law Offices of James C. Shields are here to help you through this difficult time. Contact us for more information.