Posted by: Audrey Skiera
Did you know the month of May is National Elder Law month? We’ve been celebrating all month long with our clients, colleagues and friends of the firm. To celebrate Elder Law Month, our firm has hosted three presentations: I presented Planning for Incapacity, attorney Cindy Tolan presented Lessons from the Silver Screen: Communicating a Personal Plan, and attorney Katie May presented an Update on Illinois Healthcare Law.
Elder Law includes issues of planning for long-term care, estate planning, wealth preservation planning, disability planning, Social Security decisions, Medicare decisions, Veterans benefits planning, healthcare decision-making, guardianship and other related issues for aging individuals.
Although it isn’t the only health concern, one of the greatest challenges facing aging Americans is planning for and coping with Alzheimer’s Disease. The Alzheimer’s Association’s publication 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures concludes that approximately 1/3 of people aged 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. It also predicts a 23.8% increase in the number of Illinois residents with the disease between 2014 and 2025. According to the report, between the years 2000 and 2010, Alzheimer’s disease increased as a reported cause of death by more than 68%. In Illinois in 2010, Alzheimer’s disease was the reported cause of death in 22.8% of all deaths in the state.
The average life expectancy from diagnosis is 4 to 8 years, with some individuals living as long as 20 years after diagnosis. Another surprising statistic is that about 66% of all the individuals dying from Alzheimer’s die in a nursing home compared to 20% of all cancer patients and 28% of people dying from other illnesses and conditions.
Even though planning isn’t easy, it can save you and your family much heartache and expense in the long run. Planning ahead is the number one tool to ensuring a smooth transition for you and your loved ones who are facing Alzheimer’s disease or other health issues associated with aging. A good plan will include selecting and documenting your wishes as they relate to financial and healthcare matters, as well as decisions about where and how you desire to spend your remaining days.
Document Your Plan. For financial matters it is important to ensure that your financial advisor has the names of individuals to contact to discuss your well-being. It is possible to allow your advisor to communicate with a family member for “well check” purposes only when he or she deems it prudent, and to do so without revealing financial information. Without specific authorization, your financial advisor is typically prevented from reaching out to your family at all due to privacy laws. Financial institutions are taking note of this difficulty. A recent Wall Street Journal article cited a number of financial institutions that are implementing internal policies, procedures and even forums for advisors to better serve aging clients who may face declining decision-making capacity. You should also document who has authority to make financial decisions on your behalf at such time that you can no longer do that for yourself. This is usually done in a Power of Attorney for Property, as well as included in your Revocable Living Trust agreement if your estate plan includes such a document.
Ensuring that you’ve identified a family member or friend as your agent to have specific authority to make healthcare decisions for you is critical. The authority is granted in a Power of Attorney for Healthcare. This document also allows you to grant your agent certain powers over end-of-life care.
You should communicate your wishes to your family about where you want to live should you need care in a nursing home or similar setting. This decision is quite personal and you should take the time to think about it and communicate your wishes to your family. Understanding your desires will help your family make decisions (both financial and personal) and give them peace of mind.
Certain proactive early planning, perhaps at the time of early diagnosis, may also allow you to supplement the cost of care in later years with certain government assistance. These planning opportunities are beyond the scope of this post, but can be powerful tools.
Have a Personal Plan. Planning for a time of transition doesn’t just mean documenting how you intend to spend your money and when your loved ones should “pull the plug,” as some of my clients say; it also means communicating while you are able what is really important to you. It’s not easy to come to terms with the issues of aging, either for ourselves or for our parents or other loved ones. My family and friends aren’t mind readers, so unless I tell them my desires they will never know. I suspect the same is true for you. One thing you might ask yourself is whether you have fulfilled your bucket list. Have you made a bucket list? It’s never too late. Also ask yourself the question – what in my life gives me joy? Make sure your family knows, so that they can surround you with joy. Maybe it’s a telephone call to hear the voice of an old friend on the other end of the line, the warm embrace of a grandchild, listening to your favorite music, or the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. How will they know if you don’t communicate these things to them? How will they know?
Stay Up To Date. Finally, knowledge is power and because the laws regarding healthcare, health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid are in constant flux, it’s hard to stay on top of things. The Affordable Care Act and other recent legislation in Illinois has changed the landscape of benefits and planning for seniors. It is critical to make sure you are getting up-to-date information so that you can make educated decisions.