Sunday, February 18, 2018

Preparing for Dementia

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
My father is 82 years old and has Parkinson's Disease. In the years since he was diagnosed, I have seen a man with a sharp mind become unable to perform tasks as simple as tying a necktie. Needless to say, he is no longer fit to handle our family's finances, and both my mother and I have had to stop in and learn the intricacies of our family's financial situation.

I don't really have a lot of advice on this matter, as mom and I are still finding our way through this mess. However, we've managed to learn a few things, which I shall pass on to you.

Don't Let One Person Maintain Control Over Crucial Information
My father is, to put it bluntly, secretive and controlling. He came from an era where money management was "Men's Work" and therefore not anything my mother needed to worry about. He became ashamed when he realized that the finances were getting away from him, and so to mask that shame he hid the details of our debt until one day we didn't have money to buy groceries. This was the point where he couldn't keep it from us, and the secret was out.

This could have been prevented if my father had brought my mother in as a partner to help with the finances long before the Parkinson's had affected his ability to do math. Finances, insurance, investments; all these things should be overseen by more than one person once a family member has been diagnosed with dementia.

Have Powers of Attorney
There was a fear at one point that my father would resist telling us the details of our financial trouble and we would have to get him declared legally incompetent so that control would revert to us. Fortunately, that did not happen. It may however be advisable for family members to have PoA over family members with dementia so that when the time comes those family members can make the needed life choices for their loved ones. Granting PoA voluntarily is a much easier process than having the state declare your adult parent incompetent and therefore award you guardianship.

Be Named On Their Paperwork
I have probably phrased this poorly, but I couldn't come up with a better name for it. Let me explain by example.
  • Be named on their bills so that you can pay them. 
  • Be named on their bank account so you can access the money to pay those bills. 
  • Be named on the title to their car so that if you take it to run errands, and they forget and call the police, you can prove that you didn't steal it. 
  • Be named on the house so that you can continue to maintain it (or even live there) in their absence. 
  • Be named on their medical paperwork so that their doctors can discuss their treatments with you without violating HIPAA. 
  • Make sure that Wills, Living Wills, and DNRs are all up to date. 
This obviously requires a lot of trust from those involved, because there is potential for abuse from the unscrupulous. This is why I recommend that these issues be worked out now, ahead of time, rather than later when there is a rush. Far better to plan ahead and take your time with someone you trust than wait until it is nearly too late and have to take whomever you can get -- or, worse, wait until it IS too late and you are appointed a ward of the state. 

This is all the advice I have right now. If I learn more as we muddle through our situation, I will revisit this topic in the future. 

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