With over 44 million people suffering globally with Alzheimer’s, Savannah attorney, Michael Smith reveals 3 ways to legally prepare for incapacity to ensure your wishes are honored and you receive the care you want should the progressive disease strike.
For many families, suspected cases of Alzheimer’s are often met with denial and silence. Fearing the personal, financial and social consequences that come along with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, treatment is oftentimes delayed until the disease has progressed to the point of total incapacity.
However, attorney Michael Smith warns this is a mistake. In honor of World Alzheimer’s Month, Smith is encouraging adults to have open conversations about their wishes and desired levels of care should the progressive disease strike.
“The time to get your affairs in order and make your wishes known is while you are still healthy and of sound mind,” says Smith. “Otherwise, your family will be left guessing at your wishes, and in many cases, be forced to petition the courts for the right to make decisions on your behalf.”
Smith says that legally preparing for Alzheimer’s can be achieved in 3 easy steps: 1. Have Conversations NOW With Loved Ones- Smith reminds us that your family can’t honor your wishes if they don’t know what they are. In the event that you start displaying signs of Alzheimer’s, tell your family what type of care you do and do not want. Where do you want to live? Who do you trust to call the shots for you? What do you consider to be “quality of life”? Let those closest to you know the answers to such questions so they are equipped to act on your behalf in a medical crisis. 2. Legally Document Your Wishes- Again, the phrase of “sound mind” is key. Legal documents such as living wills and powers of attorney that allow others to act on your behalf can only be created while you have full mental capacity. Once a doctor determines your capacity is gone, it’s too late. Your family will be stuck petitioning the court for the right to take care of even simple tasks such as paying bills, accessing medical records and utilizing public benefits. This process, known as a conservatorship, is extremely expensive, time consuming and a matter of public record whereby anyone can become privy to your most private affairs.
3. Plan On How To Pay For Care- According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the nation. Out of pocket spending for Alzheimer’s is estimated at $36 billion dollars each year alone. These costs can wreak havoc on a caregiver who may have assumed that private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid would cover all disease-related care. Smith encourages seniors and caregivers investigate copays, benefit allotments and the full costs of any desired nursing homes in order to plan ahead and avoid passing a financial burden onto loved ones. An attorney can also help create various trusts to help protect family assets in the event nursing home care is needed in the future.
“As Baby Boomers continue to age, new cases of Alzheimer’s are expected to rise dramatically over the next decade,” warns Smith. “The most prudent thing adults can do in anticipation of this is to have open conversations and set their affairs in order now to protect their family and ensure they receive proper care in the event of mental incapacity,” he says.