This week our guest blog writer is David Watt, of Laker Legal Solicitors. (Italicized inserts are mine.)
When you or a loved one is diagnosed with dementia it can feel like a frightening situation. The challenges ahead can seem daunting but you're not alone. There is a lot of help out there for you to get the support you need. There are a number of government programs that can assist you in caring for someone with dementia or if you have been diagnosed yourself.
There are a number of legal considerations to take into account with dementia. It is important to plan ahead as soon as possible in order to best adhere to your loved one's wishes. Talking with them about what they want is vital for finding out their wishes for future situations such as designating a person to make decisions on their behalf when they are unable to do so. Doing this early can help prevent difficult behavior in later stages. You will also need to discuss the long-term care wishes and planning for finances and property.(Even when a person can no longer remember having this discussion, their subconscious will, and they will be less resistant to whatever they agreed to earlier.)
The ability to make rational decisions and understand one's action is referred to as "legal capacity." If a person suffering from dementia has the ability to understand important legal documents then they have legal capacity. Different documents have different requirements for legal capacity. A lawyer will be able to help you determine if your loved one has the legal capacity to sign a document. A doctor can also assist in determining a person’s mental ability.
If there are existing legal documents that were signed before your loved one was diagnosed with dementia they may not remember signing them. It is a good idea to review them with another person to make sure that they are up to date.
When meeting with lawyer, it is helpful to get an attorney that specializes in elder care. Some key points you will want to discuss with your lawyer are: Decision making for the person with dementia, managing the person’s assets and finances, managing a person’s personal care, and long-term care services.
You will need to bring a number of documents to the lawyer to help them give you the most relevant advice. This includes:
• Copies of deeds to real estate
• Tax returns
• Health insurance or benefits booklets
• admission agreements to healthcare facilities
• A detailed list of assets
• Wills, trusts, powers of attorney
• A list of the names and addresses of people involved, family and caregivers.
People 65 or older are usually entitled to Medicare, especially if they are receiving Social Security retirement benefits. If you have a young onset diagnosis of dementia and have been receiving Social Security disability benefits for at least 24 months you are also entitled to Medicare. It provides monetary support with inpatient hospital care, outpatient prescription drugs, some medical items and some doctor's fees. This program also provides you with some home care under certain conditions. This includes rehabilitation therapy and skilled nursing care. It's worth checking up regularly what your Medicare can give you as there may be changes that affect you. In addition to Medicare there is Medigap insurance which supplements Medicare coverage and, as the name suggests, fills in the gaps that Medicare does not cover including paying for coinsurance.
(Medicare plans vary greatly by state. Many insurance companies offer plans based on the Medicare required basics but what they add can be bewilderingly different and so can their cost. What they offer also changes yearly. No Medicare plans cover long term care. Medigap plans can be expensive. Consider consulting a Senior Adviser, or a person specializing in these plans before choosing.)
To qualify for SSDI, Social Security Disability Insurance, a person must meet the criteria for disability out lined by the Social Security Administration. This often means that they need to prove that the person with dementia cannot work, they will remain in the condition for more than a year or that it is ultimately expected to result in death. For those younger than 65 to qualify they will need to meet other criteria. Usually they are fast-tracked to a favourable decision so that the person can start receiving benefits in a shorter amount of time.
(Expect your application to be denied the first time you apply. Using legal guidance so that you get the wording just right will lower the chances of this but still, most people who apply for SSDI must apply more than once before they are accepted.)
Bottom line: Speak to a solicitor or lawyer to ensure that the person living with dementia is given all the assistance they need.
(Yes!!! And I add, so that the you, the caregiver, get all of the legal power you need to care for your loved one.)
Living With Dementia, the Practical, Legal & Financial Considerations. A worthwhile article with more good information. Laker Legal is based in the UK, but most of their information is applicable in the US as well. (Do check this out!
For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson’s & Lewy Body Dementia