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Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other cognitive decline diagnoses are among the health issues that people fear the most. Cognitive decline is devastating for the patient as well as for their loved ones, who not only bear witness to the deterioration but who are often tasked with ensuring that all financial matters have been addressed in keeping with the individual’s wishes.
Even with a definitive diagnosis, raising the subject can be cause for discomfort, but the earlier you do so the more effective these conversations can be, and the more certain you can be that you’re doing the right thing. Here are our tips for what to do when a loved one is declining mentally.
Don’t delay. It is so easy to put off difficult conversations, but when it comes to financial planning in the face of a dementia diagnosis, the sooner you do it, the better. In most cases, there is enough time between diagnosis and significant deterioration for you to discuss your loved one’s wishes and put them into place without fear that their abilities are compromised. Now is the time to ask what type of care they want, to take them to different facilities and choose where they would like to be, to ask how they want their assets allocated, and more. Just keep in mind that time is not your friend. Act early, and if you meet resistance, keep pushing. Once everything is in place, everybody can take a deep breath and relax a bit.
Don’t ambush the individual. People who are facing cognitive decline are already vulnerable, so you don’t want the conversation to be intimidating. Give careful consideration to who will participate, and where and how you will broach the subject. Have a specific goal in mind so that the conversation can be controlled. This means that if you hope to have papers signed or brochures reviewed, you should bring them with you. Be mindful of your loved one’s condition and how different times of day and setting impact their cognition. You want to choose a time when they are generally attentive, strong and engaged.
Familiarize yourself with the proper paperwork. Addressing the needs of a person in cognitive decline requires more than agreement. There are legal documents that codify their wishes about their finances and medical directives, and if these are signed while the person is still in control of their mental powers, these documents will be extremely helpful. The most important documents to have in place are a durable power of attorney to indicate who is in charge of financial decisions, a will to indicate both the executor of the estate and its beneficiaries, and a living trust to designate the person who will manage all assets when they are no longer able. An advanced directive for medical decisions is also important.
Get control of the paperwork. We’re all familiar with our own daily transactions and documents – we receive and pay invoices, balance our checkbooks, and make sure that all of our financial obligations are attended to. The same is true for your loved one, but they will not be able to continue much longer. Now is the time to sit down with them and make sure that you know exactly what these duties are and make sure you have all of their obligations and tasks organized so that you can assume responsibility when the time comes.
Find professional help. Taking care of your loved one’s economic well-being is overwhelming, especially when you’re also taking care of your own needs. Do not be afraid to turn to financial planners, tax planners, social workers and others who have the experience and resources to help you manage your loved one’s finances, medical needs, expenses, and other tasks. Their expertise will prove to be invaluable as you try to find the right way to address each legal, medical, and financial issue that arises, including government benefits and tax issues.
The needs of the elderly are unique, and an elder law attorney can be one of your most valuable resources. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys provides an online directory to help you find a professional in your local area, and the website LawHelp.org is specifically dedicated to supporting those for whom cost is an issue. You can also find help on financial planning from the Alzheimer’s Association website, or by contacting us directly and asking for help with putting a personalized tax plan in place.