When patients are diagnosed with a chronic illness such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, they often feel a sense of hopelessness as their natural confidence is replaced with a feeling of losing control over their lives. They may feel helpless and alone, victims of their disease, and depression can set in.
For individuals and families dealing with the diagnosis that threatens one’s mental capacity, it can be therapeutic and calming to lay out a plan.
What to consider when planning for Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Parkinson’s, and similar conditions:
1. Does the person who has been diagnosed have a legally valid, up to date Power of Attorney?
If not, consult an attorney who specializes in Elder Law. If the diagnosis is made early on, it may still be possible to execute a Power of Attorney. When forms of dementia have progressed such that they significantly impair the mental capacity of an individual, a Conservatorship may be necessary.
2. Who will provide Care and how will it be paid for?
Families must consider the serious cost of care going forward, as well as the degree to which care may be needed. If 24-hr care becomes necessary, families must consider the option of an in-home nursing service versus a skilled nursing facility.
3. Is Medi-Cal planning for long term skilled nursing something that might work for your family?
Consult an Elder Law attorney to determine your options for long term skilled nursing facilities that are paid for by Medi-Cal. In certain cases, a special needs trust can be set up for the individual in need of care, which will allow them to qualify for Medi-Cal long term care coverage. If an individual does qualify for Medi-Cal long term care in a skilled nursing facility, families need to be aware that the individual will be limited to facilities covered by Medi-Cal. When an individual in need of long term care has a home or other significant asset(s), many families will choose not use Medi-Cal facilities.
4. Is everyone in the family aware of the diagnosis and its implications?
Given the emotional nature of dealing with a disease that seriously impacts mental capacity, children and other family members need to be kept informed each step of the way. Lack of communication among family members can lead to legal action - whether it is over a Power of Attorney, Conservator, Trust, or other aspect of the diagnosed individual’s life.
5. Has everyone in the family had a chance to weigh in on the plan for the future?
Lack of communication among family members, as well as family members not feeling heard - can lead to legal action. I frequently see clients who want to initiate lawsuits simply because they are not receiving information. When an individual has a diagnosis of dementia or similar disease, legal actions can relate to Power of Attorney documents, Conservatorship issues, or Living Trust matters.
6. Have you consulted an Attorney who specializes in Elder Law, Estate Planning, and Conservatorships?
It’s always best to consult an attorney as early as possible to determine what legal steps might be needed to ensure the financial and medical affairs of the person who has been diagnosed are in order.
It is particularly important not to wait for an emergency but to reach out to family, friends, and one’s community as soon as possible. Those who are diagnosed early can take their power back by expressing their wishes and planning for the future.
A supportive, loving group around the suffering family member, coupled with a clear plan going forward are the pillars of long term care planning.
For more information about Conservatorships or Elder Law, contact my downtown Walnut Creek Elder Law Firm at 925-322-1795 for a consultation.