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Help for Dealing with a Parent’s Dementia Diagnosis

With the American population living longer, addressing incapacity issues is becoming an increasingly important part of my job at Treveri Law. I personally have been dealing with several financial institutions who, frankly, have legal staff who fail to understand what a power of attorney is for and have made things very difficult during a time when my family is in mourning. If you have a parent who is, or may become incapacitated due to a current medical problem or family history, it is imperative that you get them to sign at least a healthcare Power of Attorney, a Living Will and a Financial POA and a basic will. You should also have a good handle on their financial resources in case you need to hire caregivers or place your loved one in a nursing facility.

Alzheimer’s Disease is in the news again thanks to all the impacts of COVID on nursing homes and assisted living facilities. As a daughter taking care of my 80 year old mother with dementia issues, it is terrifying to think about the path ahead. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 67 seconds and more than five million Americans are living with the disease. In addition, over 15.5 million Americans are providing unpaid care to loved ones diagnosed with dementia.

Dealing with a parent’s diagnosis of dementia can be overwhelming for many families, but there are steps you can (and should) take to ensure their affairs will be handled properly:

1. Discuss the diagnosis with your siblings or other close family members. It is important not to try to handle everything on your own.If possible, divvy up responsibilities with siblings or other family members.

2. Review with your parent which advisors (accountants, attorneys, stockbrokers, financial planners) are handling each aspect of their affairs.

3. Be sure your parent has executed an Healthcare POA and a HIPAA release form so that you can have access to their medical records and consult with their medical caregivers.

4. Do not wait – Alzheimer’s can and does progress at drastically different rates for different people. Delay can make it much more difficult to deal with.

5. Talk to an estate planning attorney to ensure your parent’s legal paperwork is in order before it becomes too late and your parent is no longer competent to execute legal documents.

6. Update, Update, update since it is VITAL that when one parent is diagnosed with an incapacitating disease that all legal documents are updated since most spouses name each other in their legal documents. Without updates, many financial institutions (Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Fidelity) delay access to funds without detailed reviews of legal documents and sometimes even additional medical examinations to prove incapacity – even though that is NOT the law in New Mexico.

7. Set up meetings with the parent’s advisors to review the status of tax planning and payment, investments, care of assets, status of regular bills and health matters.

Whatever you do, do not let any financial institution or medical facility recommend to you that your family should rely on the Court system to help you become guardian or conservator of your parent. With the recent Guardianship scandals in the state, the District Courts have frequently named ‘professional’ guardians who are more concerned about the bank accounts than caring for the patients. And once your family is stuck with a Guardian, that person is responsible for the patient for life, or until the court orders change – all at a rate of at least $150 per hour for someone to stick their unqualified noses in your business.

If you’d like to learn more about important legal protections for those facing a progressive illness or have other estate planning questions, call me at TREVERI LAW today to schedule a Design Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. Call today at 505-238-8385.

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