We Know We Can’t Stop Aging, But It’s Always a Surprise
September 14, 2014
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
One of the main reasons to go through estate planning is to make sure that your family is taken care of after you’re gone and that your assets go where you want them to go. But what if you’re gone… and not gone at the same time?
It’s no secret that the seniors of today are living much longer than their parents’ generation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean every single one of them is happy, healthy, and with it. Almost everyone has had an older relative develop Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, but far too many aging adults don’t plan for this possibility or the fact that they may end up needing long term care as they get older. And if they do think about it, it’s always way off in some unimaginable future where they are much, much older.
Such was the case with Charlie. All his life, Charlie was not only healthy, but incredibly sharp with a killer wit. He spoke several languages, made good money working as an engineer, and successfully raised two children with his wife.
An eminently practical man, Charlie did a fantastic job saving his money and planning for retirement. It seemed like everything was in place to sit back and enjoy his sunset years. Charlie even got a nice retirement package when he stopped working at 62, and he and his wife spent the next several years enjoying their newfound freedom and being grandparents.
But every once in a while, Charlie’s wife would complain to her daughter that Charlie was starting to lose it. He was becoming forgetful, starting to double and triple check things because he was nervous, and had to be pushed hard to get out of the house and interact with people. Charlie’s daughter chalked most of it up to simple aging and the change in their relationship with both of her parents at home full-time.
Things, however, got worse. Charlie’s nervousness increased to the point that he started suffering from depression and sought help from a psychiatrist in addition to other doctors. He was put on medications, but nothing seemed to help much, and even his reading, writing, and speaking abilities started to decline. Eventually, it became too much for his wife to deal with, and she left him.
Around the same time, a doctor finally discovered what was wrong with Charlie. He was suffering from an incredibly rare form of dementia called Primary Progressive Aphasia. No one really knows how you get the disease, but there’s no known cure. Essentially, it eats away at the language portion of the brain, causing you to slowly lose the ability to read, write, and eventually speak. The stress, fear, and confusion over losing these parts of his brain were what had sent Charlie into a depression, but now he had another worry: how was he going to be taken care of?
Luckily, Charlie was able to move in with this daughter, but he knew one thing for certain – once he deteriorated to the point where he was more of a burden than a help to her and her family, he didn’t want to be living there. He had a good amount of money saved, but feared that would disappear quickly once he was forced to move into long term housing. And as he was increasingly having trouble communicating even basic information, tasks like recovering a lost password from his bank or handling medical bills became nearly impossible.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t put into place a Power of Attorney that would have enabled his daughter or other designated fiduciary to help him keep his financial and administrative affairs in order. He also failed execute a last will and testament, trust, or other instrument to provide for his estate and other personal matters. His wife left him, but she never divorced him. Therefore, they were still legally married, and she would be entitled to inherit his estate upon his death absent documents executed to the contrary. With his estate, family, and life in a state of disarray, now is the worst time for him to begin his estate planning.
Consequently, he and his daughter are now racing against time to work with estate planning attorneys to come up with a plan for him while he is still able to communicate what he wants. Importantly, his attorneys are requiring physicians to sign affidavits affirming Charlie has the requisite mental capacity to execute the documents; a formality that clearly suggests a lack of capacity. The process is difficult, requiring patience on everyone’s part to give him time to get his point across. It’s a position no one should have to be in, especially when they have a limited amount of time left already.
No one expects to be hit by dementia, but it’s important that you memorialize your wishes in the proper documentation. If, god forbid, you are given an unfavorable diagnosis, you need to get your affairs in order as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the greater the chance someone can successfully challenge your mental competence at the time that you executed the documents.
If you will eventually need assistance from a program like Medicaid, you can also start planning now to protect your assets since the government will look back at your finances for the five years prior to your acceptance.
Don’t take your mental health for granted, even if you’ve had a lifetime without problems. Prepare today to protect yourself and your loved ones. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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