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Healthcare Documents – Dementia Advance Directive

dementia advance directiveWe’ve talked many times about making sure you have all your healthcare documents updated and on file with your healthcare provider, as well as providing them to your healthcare proxy (the person who has medical power of attorney if you are unable to make decisions for yourself). Continue reading

Harper Lee: A Different Angle on the Long-Term Effects of Dementia

Suspicious ruling to keep Harper Lee's will sealed by Alabama Probate Judge Greg NorrisOn February 29, 2016 Tonja Carter, the estate lawyer and trustee for Harper Lee who replaced Alice Lee after her death in 2014, asked, through the legal firm representing her, an Alabama court to seal Harper Lee’s will from the public, claiming that Harper Lee wanted the same privacy in death that she made sure, for as long as she was able, in life.

On March 4, 2016 Monroe County, Alabama Probate Judge Greg Norris granted the request.

Given the suspicious circumstances around the publication of Go Set A Watchman, this latest legal action raises, at least for me, a whole new set of red flags. Continue reading

The Layperson’s Guide to Revocable Living Trusts, Guardianships, and Conservatorships

Contingency Planning End of Life Planning Elderly Parents and ChildrenWhen our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease reach the part of the journey through these neurological diseases where they are unable to handle their own financial and legal matters, we as caregivers have no option but to step in and act for them and in their best interests.

Here in the United States, there is an incomprehensible aversion to planning for the possibility of having to entrust our lives to someone else and for how we want to die

It’s as though we have this national collective mentality that if we don’t think about it, then it won’t happen.

The bad news? No matter what, it’s still going to happen.

And someone is going to be left holding the bag – maybe the person we would have designated or maybe someone we don’t want making decisions for us – to decide for us.

If it’s a person we trust, then they have the agony of trying to figure out what’s best and what we would have wanted. This is especially agonizing when dealing with end-of-life issues.

Too many people in this position of not knowing what we want, because we refused to talk about it, prolong our suffering and run up needless bills in the process, simply delaying what would have been the inevitable outcome anyway.

If it’s a person we don’t trust, all bets are off. And it is not going to be pretty.

The time to prepare for both of these inevitables – unless we die early and truly unexpectedly (I can’t help but laugh every time I see an obituary for a really elderly person that says they died unexpectedly: suddenly, perhaps; unexpectedly, no) – is when we have the ability to and can make sure what we want to happen happens.

A Revocable Living Trust is A Good Option for Ensuring Elderly and End-of-Life NeedsFrom the standpoint of appointing someone we trust to handle our financial and legal affairs (most of us do an okay job with medical powers of attorney, but even that gets ignored more than it should), a revocable living trust is probably the best and safest way to go.

The benefits of a revocable living trust are:

  • The person creating it retains control and can revoke control at any time as long as they are competent;
  • It can be set up with a small amount of money or a piece of property in the trust and the attorney’s fee (varies by state);
  • The person creating it designates the person/people they trust to handle their legal/financial affairs;
  • It eliminates the need for a will;
  • It cannot be legally contested;
  • The process of transferring control to the designated trustee in the case of incompetency requires a professional (psychiatric) letter with the diagnosis and evidence of incompetency;
  • It, with the professional letter declaring incompetency, is the only documentation needed for the designated trustee to handle finances and legal matters.

A revocable living trust is probably the easiest way to ensure what we want both in life if we can’t do it ourselves and in death after we’re gone.

However, it is of supreme importance to choose wisely and be absolutely convinced of the trustworthiness of the person we designate to be our trustee.

The bottom line? If we have any doubts as to whether we can trust someone completely, we do not choose them as our trustee.

It will not end well for us – in fact, it could end gruesomely and tragically – and all our careful planning will have been for nothing, to put it mildly.

But what if, as many Americans do, our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease reach the stage where they are not competent to handle their affairs without any legal documents in place?

There are two options, and by the time this is needed, it’s likely that the petitioner (us for our loved ones or our families for us) will need both of them granted.

Both options are very costly (much more expensive than the cost of powers of attorney and a revocable living trust), often take a long time to be granted, and, in many cases, set off a family war, which not only can delay a decision, but can also create irreparable rifts within the family.

One option is guardianship. Guardianships give the petitioner the legal authority to take physical care of the loved one who is incapacitated.

The process to obtaining guardianship begins with getting a professional letter confirming the person for whom guardianship is sought is incompetent to handle their own affairs.

That letter must be taken to an attorney to have a petition drawn up to submit with the letter to the court. The petitioner is responsible for all the attorney fees (general estimates are in the $2500 to $4000 range if the petition is uncontested) and court costs.

Petitioning for legal guardianship and conservatorship is a lengthy and costly processThe court will decide – slowly – whether to grant the guardianship and the entire process can take several months at the very least.

The second option is a conservatorship. A conservatorship gives the petitioner the legal authority to handle financial and estate matters for of the loved one who is incapacitated.

A conservatorship has the same legal requirements and process as a guardianship and has the same potential problems as well. That’s why if a petitioner has no other choice but to pursue these options, it’s prudent to do both of them at the same time.

There is an additional requirement for the petitioner who is granted a conservatorship for a loved one who is incapacitated. The petitioner will have to file a detailed annual financial report for the estate to the court for review to ensure that the estate is being managed as the court sees fit.

If the petitions for guardianship and conservatorship are uncontested, they will take a much longer time and much, much more money to obtain than having an attorney draw up a revocable living trust that settles everything.

If the guardianship and conservatorship petitions are contested by other family members, it’s conceivable that the legal fight could outlast the loved one who is incapacitated and the amount of money spent to fund the fight would be outrageously high.

We may have no choice in these matters with our loved ones that we are caregivers for, but I urge each of us to consider taking care of these things for ourselves now for our potential caregivers.

We need to tell our families what we want, carewise, for longterm care and at the end of our lives. We need to choose and discuss with the person we want to ensure that our wishes are carried out. We need to get the legal paperwork done and keep one copy in our home safe or a safety deposit box at the bank and give the other copy to the person we designate to carry out our wishes.

We never know when time and chance are going to happen. Today is the day to prepare for that. Tomorrow may be too late.

 

 

Do You Know And Have You Prepared What You Need To Ensure That You And Your Affairs Will Be Well-Taken Care Of When You Need Help?

financial legal medical documents power of attorney going gentle into that good nightEvery few months, I write a post on the immediate need for everyone – no matter what their age, their health, or their life circumstances – to know and understand the vital information that needs to documented (and executed in terms of legal documents) and communicated to their designee when they are unable, either temporarily or permanently, to take care of their own affairs.

This includes digital access (email accounts, online bank accounts, retail accounts, etc.) documentation as well as legal, medical, and financial documents everyone needs to have in place when we need help or can’t take care of our own affairs in this area.

I am extremely puzzled by the fact those most people put this off and avoid thinking about it or doing it. It’s illogical and it is really cruel to those whose laps it ends up in.

I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about a family member – especially parents of grown children – being incapacitated with life and death in the balance and because nobody ever talked about this contingency and no documents – living wills and/or DNRs – exist, there’s no clear decision-maker and the ability to let go (taking off life support when there’s no chance of recovery) is long, hard, and gut-wrenching on the family.

And the one who didn’t take the time to spell out their wishes suffers terribly and needlessly, not to get better, but essentially just to run up a meaningless huge debt that will decimate their estate and perhaps ruin the financial health of those they leave behind. 

None of is guaranteed our next breath, a healthy life with no life-changing accidents and diseases, nor a healthy mind for as long as we live. Things could literally change 180% for any of us and our families and loved ones while we’re reading this sentence. Yet, of all the things it seems that we humans deceive ourselves about, this seems to be the top “It won’t happen to me.”

But the reality is that it will.

If not sooner, then later.

And the most selfish and irresponsible thing that we can do to our families and our loved ones is to not be prepared ourselves and to not ensure that we have designated and prepared the decision-makers we choose in advance.

This is one of the greatest acts of love and one of the biggest blessings we can do for and give to those closest to us and whom we love the most.

to be prepared is half the victoryAll of us need to be preparing in advance for the possibility that something – whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, other life-threatening illnesses, or simply time and chance – could suddenly and dramatically or slowly and insidiously render us incapable of taking care of our own affairs.

With the precipitous rise in dementias overall, which may be in part related to a more toxic planet, more toxic water, and more toxic food, and the burgeoning number of lifestyle-related dementias that are emerging, the odds are not in our favor that every single one of us, in time, will not suffer from some sort of neurological degeneration. 

Who is going to help us when this happens?

And even if you or I are the exception to the rule, we’re still going to die. Everybody dies.

You can ignore it, you can deny it, you can live in some fantasy world where you refuse to think about it ever, but it doesn’t change the reality that it will happen to you and me.

I believe most of us assume that death will be quick and instantaneously, but the reality is that, in all likelihood, most of us will probably have a period of decline in which we will need help handling our financial, legal, and medical affairs before we take our last breaths.

And, after we take our last breaths, someone will have to take care of getting us buried and ending our financial, legal, and medical status among the living.

Who would that be for you? Yes, you, the one who is reading this post. Do you know? Does that person know? If that person knows, have you made this as easy as possible for him or her by doing your part and making sure he or she has everything he or she needs to do what needs to be done?

Or, because you don’t want to think about it or talk about, will that person have the burdensome responsibility of trying to figure it out all on his or her own?

We say we don’t want to be burdens to our loved ones. By taking care of this, you and I – we – have taken a big step toward easing the magnitude of that burden that, if we live long enough, will be shouldered by our loved ones.

I did my first will and living will shortly after I turned 21. I review and update, if necessary, both of those when my circumstances change or 12 months have passed. I have a signed and notarized DNR.

I have complete documentation on my digital footprint, as well as other financial, medical, insurance, property, and notification (for death) documentation that I keep updated as well.

I have detailed instructions regarding my funeral service and my burial.

Do you?

If not, why not?

What are you going to do about?

When are you going to do something about it?

What if tomorrow never comes?

If You Needed Help, Does Anyone Have What They Need From You to Step Up to the Plate?

financial legal medical documents power of attorney going gentle into that good nightI went to a metropolitan senior center as an observer for an Alzheimer’s Association class today that was eye-opening as far as how few of the seniors in the class knew and understood what legal, medical, and financial documents they needed to have in place in the event that they needed help or could not take care of their own affairs in this area.

The questions they asked, which I was able to help answer, reminded me that I can’t overemphasize the explanations of these documents, the reasons why they are needed, and that the time is now for everybody, regardless of your age and health, to have these in place.

All of us need to be preparing in advance for the possibility that something – whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, other life-threatening illnesses, or simply time and chance – could suddenly and dramatically or slowly and insidiously render us incapable of taking care of our own affairs.

It seems to me that the very thing we try most to avoid thinking about, talking about, planning for is the very thing that will eventually happen to us all. And that is death.

Denial is, in my opinion, stronger and more pervasive in this area of life than in any other. “If I don’t think about it, then it isn’t real” seems to be the underlying thinking of this denial. I’m here to tell you that all the denial in the world won’t take away its inevitability of happening.

None of us, except those who chose to usurp God’s will and end their own lives, know how or when we’re going to die.

I believe most of us assume it will be quick and instantaneously, but the reality is that, in all likelihood, most of us will probably have a period of decline in which we will need help handling our financial, legal, and medical affairs before we take our last breaths.

And, after we take our last breaths, someone will have to take care of getting us buried and ending our financial, legal, and medical status among the living.

Who would that be for you? Yes, you, the one who is reading this post. Do you know? Does that person know? If that person knows, have you made this as easy as possible for him or her by doing your part and making sure he or she has everything he or she needs to do what needs to be done?

Or, because you don’t want to think about it or talk about, will that person have the burdensome responsibility of trying to figure it out all on his or her own?

We say we don’t want to be burdens to our loved ones. By taking care of this, you and I – we – have taken a big step toward easing the magnitude of that burden that, if we live long enough, will be shouldered by our loved ones.

I did my first will and living will shortly after I turned 21. I had just graduated from college, but not before having a very serious car accident (one that I miraculously survived with some significant injuries, but nothing like what I should have suffered) just before I graduated.

I’d never been that close to being face-to-face with death before, but it made me realize that I needed to make sure that my affairs – and they were paltry in those days but even then I had life insurance – were in order for the ones I’d leave behind.

From that point on, I have been meticulous about keeping my will up-to-date, the beneficiaries on my insurance policies up-to-date, and all the information my executor will need to take care of things up-to-date. I added a DNR to my medical wishes about 20 years ago, I got my cemetery plot 15 years ago, and I wrote out my funeral service and burial wishes about 10 years ago. 

Additionally, my executor has updated access and account information to everything online and offline to finish up my earthly affairs when I’m gone.

preparation-death-alzheimer's-disease-dementias-age-related-illnessesThis, in my opinion, is the last act of kindness I can do in this physical life. It is also one of the greatest.

Mama used to worry that something would happen to me (i.e., that I would die before she did) and then about what would happen to her. There were times in our lives together that could have been a possibility, but I always reassured her that I’d be there with her to the end. And I was by the grace of God.

Of my parents, Daddy was a paradox when it came to this subject. On the one hand, he had life insurance that would take care of Mama after his death and he insisted, in the year before his death, that Mama get her own checking and savings accounts and get credit cards in her name only.

On the other hand, there were other areas in which he had great difficulty facing his mortality. I remember Mama suggesting that they start getting rid of clothes and other things they weren’t wearing or using anymore and Daddy’s response: “the girls can take care of that.”

The will that Daddy had in effect, until shortly before his death, was the one that he had drawn up just after he and Mama adopted us. None of the information was pertinent or relevant anymore.

After much and extended (I’m talking a couple of years) discussion between Mama and him, they finally went to a lawyer, about six weeks before he died, to have a current will drawn up.

Mama was just the opposite. Somehow, I think all the deaths of close and beloved relatives in her early years made the inevitability of death more real to her. She, primarily, during our growing up years, talked on a regular basis about what would happen to us if she and Daddy died and how we needed to take care of each other and be good kids so the road without them would be easier for us.

Not long after Daddy died, she and I sat down together (I was now checking in daily and helping her navigate through some of the things that Daddy had done and offering advice and assistance as she needed it) and she told me what she wanted – and didn’t want – as far as end-of-life wishes.

We went to an attorney together and she did a will (which she later changed to a revocable living trust), living will, and all the POA paperwork. I had copies, she had copies, and she put copies in a safety deposit box at the bank.

At that time, I didn’t need or want knowledge or access to her financial accounts, but as time went on, she needed more of my help in dealing with them, so she gave me access to get into the accounts and help her (we always sat down and did this together until she wasn’t able to anymore) keep up with bills and what she had. 

By doing this with me, Mama made things much easier for me when the time came that I had to step in because she couldn’t do it.

I can’t thank Mama enough for her foresight with this gift. Instead of having to focus on everything brand new coming at me at once, I could focus on what was most important, and that was Mama: loving her, caring for her, being there for her.

The last couple of months Mama was alive, we’d be sitting close, holding hands, and talking and suddenly she’d say “I don’t want be a burden on you,” with tears rolling down her cheeks. I’d squeeze her hands and pull her closer in a hug, kissing the tears away from her cheeks, saying, “Mama, you’re not a burden to me. I love you unconditionally. I wouldn’t be anywhere else doing anything else but right here doing this with you.”

Mama would relax in my embrace and I would hold her tighter as I said these words because they were true and we both recognized that they were true, but most of all, I recognized how easy Mama had made things for me by equipping me with what I needed to step in easily and take care of the routine things so that I could save my energy, my focus, and my love for taking care of her.

Medical, Financial, and Legal Advocacy and Help: What Happens If You Can’t Advocate For and Help Yourself?

All of us need to be preparing in advance for the possibility that something – whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, other life-threatening illnesses, or simply time and chance – could suddenly and dramatically or slowly and insidiously render us incapable of taking care of our own affairs.

It seems to me that the very thing we try most to avoid thinking about, talking about, planning for is the very thing that will eventually happen to us all. And that is death.

Denial is, in my opinion, stronger and more pervasive in this area of life than in any other. “If I don’t think about it, then it isn’t real” seems to be the underlying thinking of this denial. I’m here to tell you that all the denial in the world won’t take away its inevitability of happening.

None of us, except those who chose to usurp God’s will and end their own lives, know how or when we’re going to die.

I believe most of us assume it will be quick and instantaneously, but the reality is that, in all likelihood, most of us will probably have a period of decline in which we will need help handling our financial, legal, and medical affairs before we take our last breaths.

And, after we take our last breaths, someone will have to take care of getting us buried and ending our financial, legal, and medical status among the living.

Who would that be for you? Yes, you, the one who is reading this post. Do you know? Does that person know? If that person knows, have you made this as easy as possible for him or her by doing your part and making sure he or she has everything he or she needs to do what needs to be done?

Or, because you don’t want to think about it or talk about, will that person have the burdensome responsibility of trying to figure it out all on his or her own?

We say we don’t want to be burdens to our loved ones. By taking care of this, you and I – we – have taken a big step toward easing the magnitude of that burden that, if we live long enough, will be shouldered by our loved ones.

I did my first will and living will shortly after I turned 21. I had just graduated from college, but not before having a very serious car accident (one that I miraculously survived with some significant injuries, but nothing like what I should have suffered) just before I graduated.

I’d never been that close to being face-to-face with death before, but it made me realize that I needed to make sure that my affairs – and they were paltry in those days but even then I had life insurance – were in order for the ones I’d leave behind.

From that point on, I have been meticulous about keeping my will up-to-date, the beneficiaries on my insurance policies up-to-date, and all the information my executor will need to take care of things up-to-date. I added a DNR to my medical wishes about 20 years ago, I got my cemetery plot 15 years ago, and I wrote out my funeral service and burial wishes about 10 years ago. 

Additionally, my executor has updated access and account information to everything online and offline to finish up my earthly affairs when I’m gone.

preparation-death-alzheimer's-disease-dementias-age-related-illnessesThis, in my opinion, is the last act of kindness I can do in this physical life. It is also one of the greatest.

Mama used to worry that something would happen to me (i.e., that I would die before she did) and then about what would happen to her. There were times in our lives together that could have been a possibility, but I always reassured her that I’d be there with her to the end. And I was by the grace of God.

Of my parents, Daddy was a paradox when it came to this subject. On the one hand, he had life insurance that would take care of Mama after his death and he insisted, in the year before his death, that Mama get her own checking and savings accounts and get credit cards in her name only.

On the other hand, there were other areas in which he had great difficulty facing his mortality. I remember Mama suggesting that they start getting rid of clothes and other things they weren’t wearing or using anymore and Daddy’s response: “the girls can take care of that.”

The will that Daddy had in effect, until shortly before his death, was the one that he had drawn up just after he and Mama adopted us. None of the information was pertinent or relevant anymore.

After much and extended (I’m talking a couple of years) discussion between Mama and him, they finally went to a lawyer, about six weeks before he died, to have a current will drawn up.

Mama was just the opposite. Somehow, I think all the deaths of close and beloved relatives in her early years made the inevitability of death more real to her. She, primarily, during our growing up years, talked on a regular basis about what would happen to us if she and Daddy died and how we needed to take care of each other and be good kids so the road without them would be easier for us.

Not long after Daddy died, she and I sat down together (I was now checking in daily and helping her navigate through some of the things that Daddy had done and offering advice and assistance as she needed it) and she told me what she wanted – and didn’t want – as far as end-of-life wishes.

We went to an attorney together and she did a will (which she later changed to a revocable living trust), living will, and all the POA paperwork. I had copies, she had copies, and she put copies in a safety deposit box at the bank.

At that time, I didn’t need or want knowledge or access to her financial accounts, but as time went on, she needed more of my help in dealing with them, so she gave me access to get into the accounts and help her (we always sat down and did this together until she wasn’t able to anymore) keep up with bills and what she had. 

By doing this with me, Mama made things much easier for me when the time came that I had to step in because she couldn’t do it.

I can’t thank Mama enough for her foresight with this gift. Instead of having to focus on everything brand new coming at me at once, I could focus on what was most important, and that was Mama: loving her, caring for her, being there for her as her advocate on all fronts, including in legal, medical, and financial affairs.

The last couple of months Mama was alive, we’d be sitting close, holding hands, and talking and suddenly she’d say “I don’t want be a burden on you,” with tears rolling down her cheeks. I’d squeeze her hands and pull her closer in a hug, kissing the tears away from her cheeks, saying, “Mama, you’re not a burden to me. I love you unconditionally. I wouldn’t be anywhere else doing anything else but right here doing this with you.”

Mama would relax in my embrace and I would hold her tighter as I said these words because they were true and we both recognized that they were true, but most of all, I recognized how easy Mama had made things for me by equipping me with what I needed to step in easily and take care of the routine things so that I could save my energy, my focus, and my love for taking care of her.

New Book: “You Oughta Know: Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease”

I’ve just written and published my newest book, You Oughta Know: Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

It is available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

I’ll include the short summary from Amazon I wrote for the book:

You Oughta Know: Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer's Disease“This book looks comprehensively at all the steps that occur in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

In my own experience with this and in counseling, supporting, and working with others who are going through these steps, I realized there is a basic lack of comprehension about the big picture of how these neurological diseases progress.

I know that because the same questions get asked and answered over and over again.

My purpose is to ask those questions and answer them in a way that, first, makes sense, and, second, works for everybody involved.

I know. I’ve been on the caregiving side of the equation personally. There were no books like this when I did it, so I had to learn on my own and figure out what worked and what didn’t. I made mistakes. You’ll make mistakes.

But, in the end, my mom and whoever you love and are caring for, got the best we have to give and we can learn some pretty incredible and good life lessons along the way.

If you don’t read another book on this subject, you should read this one. I don’t have all the answers, but the answers I have learned are the ones that probably matter most.

Not just now, but for the rest of our lives.” 

This book also includes the last step that we take alone without our loved ones: grief. I’ve been there and I’ve done that and although I will never not feel the grief on some level, I’ve learned some lessons that I know will help each of you.