Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are tough to deal with for both the person with the disease and the rest of the family. (Alzheimer's Caregivers: Isolated and Needing Help, Forbes, June 1, 2017) Different people react differently, so you may have an Alzheimer's patient who is compliant and easy to guide or you may have a patient who is frustrated, in denial, and resistant to help. One problem with dementia and related diseases is that once you have it, it can be tough to recognize your own limitations.
There are ways to make the transition easier for yourself and your family in the future. Making sure you have powers of attorney, health care directive, funeral directive and either a will or trust is essential. A specific technique to consider is the use of a revocable living trust with language creating a "competency committee" to determine the point at which the trustee (aging individual with dementia) should no longer manage his or her own financial affairs and another person would step in as trustee (family member, friend, or professional trustee). This committee could include family members, friends, caregivers, health care professionals or whoever the trustee feels will make a reasonable decision about his or her status and truly cares about his or her well-being.
This can be more useful than a standard power of attorney because often under a power of attorney, the agent has the fiduciary duty to obey the directions of the principal unless the principal has been deemed incompetent by a doctor and assets are still in the principal's name, so he or she still has access to those assets. It's often difficult to get a person who is possibly incompetent to go to the doctor in the first place, especially if they think their competency is at issue. Under a trust, the assets are owned by (in the name of) the trust and once the original trustee is removed, he or she no longer has access. At that point, the new trustee has a fiduciary duty to manage and distribute the trust assets for the benefit of the original trustee (the person with dementia).
There are many variations on this approach and you should work with your estate planning attorney and your family to creatively structure your plan to best fit your situation and support your family connections. Obviously, you need to get the plan in place before you actually need it.
For assistance with Washington state estate planning, probate and trust administration, call Megan Lewis Law, PLLC at (509) 557-7797 or complete our contact form. Our office provides local service for Spokane estate planning and can provide online virtual web and phone conferencing for estate planning in Seattle, Olympia, Bellingham and other areas of Washington state.
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Megan M. Lewis
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