National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month: Planning After a Diagnosis

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s Disease is a degenerative brain disease caused by brain cell damage. Early symptoms include not being able to remember new information. Cognitive ability continues to decline, and eventually seemingly simple tasks like speaking and walking are troublesome. Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s Disease. About 5.7 million Americans currently suffer from this devastating disease. Currently, there is no cure.

After someone receives an Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis, it can be very overwhelming. Many questions will arise, such as:

  • “How much care will I need?”
  • “Who will provide my needed care?”
  • “Will I be able to stay in my home?”
  • “How will I pay for care?”

It is important to discuss these questions with an elder law attorney. Elder law attorneys help folks have a plan in place to address all these issues. What might this planning look like?

Powers of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a legal document that names someone, an “agent”, to act on behalf of another person, the “principal”. A Healthcare Power of Attorney names an agent to make medical decisions for the principal. The agent can also access medical records and talk with doctors. A Financial Power of Attorney names an agent to act on the principal’s behalf regarding finances. Depending upon the terms of the Power of Attorney, this could include accessing bank accounts, paying creditors, selling or purchasing real property, accessing online or digital accounts, changing beneficiary designations on retirement assets or life insurance policies, and many more various powers.

A Power of Attorney can be effective immediately, meaning the agent has the powers described in the document even while the principal is competent. Or, the power can be springing, which means the agent’s powers are only effective when the principal is unable to make those decisions on their own behalf. It is important for someone who has recently had an Alzheimer’s diagnosis to have these documents in place. Alzheimer’s Disease will eventually leave the individual unable to make healthcare and financial decisions on their own. Having these documents in place will allow the designated agent to take care of these decisions when the time comes.

Once the Powers of Attorney are in place, the principal should discuss their desires for care with their agent. The agent’s job is to carry out tasks on behalf of the principal so they will need to know how the principal would prefer things to go. What type of care is desired? In what setting? Are there any actions that the principal would be opposed to? Are there religious preferences the agent should take into account?

The principal must have capacity to sign a Power of Attorney. Legal capacity means understanding the consequences of one’s actions. This is why acting early is important. Alzheimer’s Disease can be swift in effecting one’s ability to have legal capacity. If Powers of Attorney are not in place and the principal’s condition deteriorates to the point that the principal no longer has legal capacity, the principal’s family would have to seek court intervention to have the principal declared incompetent. Then, the court would name someone who can legally act on behalf of the principal. The court process and be costly and time-consuming, and the principal’s wishes may not be carried out. Having Powers of Attorney in place is an important step after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Planning for Long-term Care
Roughly 48% of nursing home residents have some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. The disease is such that one’s ability to care for themselves declines to the point of potentially needing around-the-clock care. But before nursing home care becomes necessary, it is likely that the Alzheimer’s patient will need home care or assisted living care. The average nursing home in the United States costs $8,365 per month. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that end-of-life care for a patient can span $233,000 and $367,000. Planning for how to pay for this care is crucial.

Long-term care is not covered under standard medical insurance policies. An elder law attorney may help a client explore long-term care insurance products. A traditional long-term care insurance policy will pay for care when the policy holder can no longer perform two activities of daily living, including dressing, grooming, eating, contingence management, ambulating, and bathing. However, policies can be very expensive any may only cover a few years of care. Another type of long-term care policy is called a hybrid plan. This type of plan allows the policy holder to access the death benefit while alive. So, the policy holder would use the death-benefit funds to pay for their long-term care and any remaining amount would be paid to beneficiaries upon the policy holder’s death. However, hybrid plans are usually even more expensive than traditional plans.

As an alternative to long-term care insurance, an elder law attorney may help a client become eligible for Medicaid. In order for Medicaid to pay for long-term care services, the applicant must meet strict financial criteria. Most folks are over this resource limit, but legal planning can be done so that the client can protect assets while still qualifying for Medicaid. This planning can include the use of trusts, making exempt transfers, utilizing Caregiver Agreements, and more. For eligible Veterans, the attorney would also likely seek Veterans benefits.

Care coordination
An elder law attorney may refer their client to a care coordinator. This is someone who assess the home and make recommended changes to better accommodate an Alzheimer’s patient. The care coordinator can also help navigate care options and help put a care plan in place. Having this advocate in place to help navigate care options can be crucial for helping family and friends care for their loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease.  

Receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be devastating for the patient, as well as for their family and friends. Having competent help in navigating through the new normal is key. If there is a plan in place, especially a plan that the one suffering from Alzheimer’s helped form, then the family can focus on each other and have less stress. Elder law attorneys are an integral part of setting up this plan and setting up the family for success on their new path.

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