If you have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you have already seen how a diagnosis can flip life as you know it upside down. It’s a long road and a lot of work to make sure loved ones with dementia are happy and well cared for. It is imperative to take steps to legally protect your loved one because legal protections not only keep your loved one safe, but they make it easier to maintain their lifestyle and keep them well cared for.
As dementia progresses, your loved one will be unable to protect themselves or even designate someone to help them. It is important to get a plan in place as soon as a diagnosis is made, even if the doctor thinks that your loved one has some time before the dementia becomes a significant factor. There are a handful of things that can be done early that will be very useful to avoid extra stressors in an already stressful time and help things go smoothly.
CREATING AN ADVANCED HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE
An advanced health care directive is a combination of a living will and a medical power of attorney. A living will outlines a person’s wishes for medical care and treatment and a medical power of attorney names the person or people who would be making the medical decisions if they could no longer make decisions. An advanced health care directive and a HIPAA (privacy) waiver that have been updated and properly executed will allow someone with dementia to plan their own wishes so that when they are no longer able to make informed decisions, the person they named in their documents can make decisions based on the dementia patient’s own wishes and desires and can legally communicate with the doctor.
CREATING A WRITTEN CARE PLAN WITH YOUR MEMORY CARE COMMUNITY
If your loved one’s dementia reaches a point where a memory care community is needed, you can help protect your loved one by working with their facility to create a written care plan. Not only is a written care plan and regular re-revaluations and modifications to the care plan the law, but it helps you to help your loved one by making sure they are receiving the amount and qualify of care that is needed for them personally. A written plan makes it so much easier to hold the facility accountable for their actions, or more often than not, inactions. Because your loved one’s needs are going to continually change, you want to consistently revisit the care plan and make sure the facility is also re-evaluating your loved one and modifying their care plan as needed.
CREATING AN ESTATE PLAN
If your loved one does not have a will or trust and has very clear ideas for what they would like to happen to their assets, they should set up an estate plan with an attorney while they are still able to make those decisions. Creating an estate plan means your loved one can have more direct control over their own financial future as well as lay out plans for after they die. A well curated team of an estate planning attorney, financial advisor(s), and a certified public accountant (CPA) can sometimes spot or thwart elder abuse, or a reduction in capacity within financial patterns, such as large cash withdrawals or financial mismanagement. Then can then notify each other to be on the lookout for a change in behavior and notify loved ones, or even the police.
MONITORING YOUR LOVED ONE’S TREATMENT
People with dementia are at a significant risk for being mistreated or taken advantage of because they may not be aware of what is going on or they have trouble communicating due to the dementia. The best way to protect your loved one is to visit them often and to pay attention to their care. Whether your loved one is in memory care, assisted living, or a skilled nursing facility, you can, and should, regularly communicate with caregivers and staff to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding your loved one’s care. In person visits are always the best because you can see with your own eyes how your loved one is doing and how well they are being cared for.
SETTING UP A FINANCIAL POWER OF ATTORNEY
A financial power of attorney can ensure legal protection for dementia patients. It is important to put this in place early, although the document does not need to become effective immediately. As dementia progresses, some patients develop paranoia, and if that happens, they likely won’t sign a power of attorney at that point. If set up properly, a power of attorney will not become effective until your loved one loses the ability to effectively manage their own financial affairs. A power of attorney will allow a person named by the patient to step in and manage their finances. This makes sure that there is no interruption in your loved one’s care.
All of these suggestions can go a long way to making a difficult disease such as dementia a little easier to navigate.