Dementia Diagnosis: Legal Steps to Take ASAP
Finding out that you or a loved one has dementia can seem overwhelming. It is easy to go into denial or avoid making important decisions. However, it is important to complete legal planning while it is still legally possible to do so. Whether you or your loved one received the diagnosis, specialized dementia legal planning is necessary. Here are important points to keep in mind:
Before a dementia diagnosis
Create a plan before a crisis: How will bills be paid if mom doesn’t remember how? What happens if dad’s memory issues get worse? Develop a plan before a crisis occurs. A good plan provides security and guidance for the family when an unexpected health concern arises because there is already a path to follow so that mom and dad’s bills can continue to get paid and they can receive the care they need.
After a dementia diagnosis
Don’t believe the standard will or trust you already have is enough: The legal documents you had before the diagnosis are not enough. What if the “healthy spouse” dies first. The truth is most of the time, the caregiver spouse dies first. Your standard will or trust is not designed to deal with this likelihood.
Seek out reliable information: This is a very precise area of the law so be sure you consult with an attorney whose practice specializes in elder law and/or estate planning. With good planning and an experienced elder law attorney, the diagnosed person may be able to qualify for Medicaid or veterans benefits to help pay for care at home, in a senior community, or at a nursing home.
The barber is an expert . . . on cutting hair: I remember sitting in the barber chair and a guy coming in saying he didn’t know what to do about his mom who had dementia and could no longer live alone. The barber told him to take all his mom’s money and hide it, then apply for government benefits. Please do not attempt this street law tactic.
At that point I had to interrupt and explain that failing to disclose, or hiding assets, is a felony. Worse, those attempting this will probably get caught because the government now has an asset verification system to track such transfers of the money.
There are legal ways to protect assets without breaking the law: Work with a qualified and experienced elder law attorney who understands the issues related to dementia to learn how to protect assets and still qualify for help to pay for needed care.
Bob Mannor, a certified dementia practitioner, is past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys-Michigan Chapter; chair of the State Bar of Michigan Elder and Disability Rights section; and one of 19 nationally certified elder law attorneys in the state of Michigan. For more information, visit www.mannorlawgroup.com, or call 810.645.8426.