“When a loved one is experiencing cognitive decline, emotional and medical considerations often overshadow the financial planning that needs to happen. This is a potentially costly mistake.”
Whether the reason is Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or any of a number of illnesses that lead to dementia, it’s hard for families to think about legal or financial concerns, when a diagnosis is first made. This can lead to serious problems in the near future, warns the article “Cognitive Decline Shouldn’t Derail Retirement Planning. Here are Some Tips to Prepare Your Finances” from Barron’s. The time to act is as soon as the family realizes their loved one is having a problem—even before the diagnosis is official.
Here are some useful tips for navigating cognitive decline:
Take an inventory. Families should create a detailed list of assets and liabilities, including information on who has access to each of the accounts. Don’t leave out assets that have gone paperless, like online checking, savings, credit card and investment accounts. Without a paper trail, it may be impossible to identify assets. Try to do this while the person still has some ability to be actively involved. This can be difficult, especially when adult children have not been involved with their parent’s finances. Ask about insurance policies, veterans’ benefits, retirement accounts and other assets. One person in the family should be the point person.
Get an idea of what future costs will be. This is the one that everyone wants to avoid but knowing what care costs will be is critical. Will the person need adult day care or in-home care at first, then full-time medical care or admission to a nursing facility? Costs vary widely, and many families are completely in the dark about the numbers. Out-of-pocket medications or uncovered expenses are often a surprise. The family needs to review any insurance policy documents and find out if there are options to add or amend coverage to suit the person’s current and future needs.
Consider bringing in a professional to help. Meet with one of our firm’s elder law estate planning attorneys, also include your financial planner to help put your legal and financial affairs in order. There are many details that must be considered, from how assets are titled, trusts, financial powers of attorney, advance health care directives and more. If Medicaid planning was not done previously, there may be some tools available to protect the spouse, but this must be done with an experienced attorney.
Automate any finances if possible. Even if the person might be able to stay in their own home, advancing decline may make tasks, like bill paying, increasingly difficult. If the person can sign up for online banking, with an adult child granted permission to access the account, it may be easier as time goes by. Some monthly bills, such as insurance premiums, can be set up for automatic payment to minimize the chances of their being unpaid and coverage being lost. Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits are now required to be sent via direct deposit or prepaid debit card. If a family member is still receiving a paper check, then now is the time to sign up for direct deposit, so that checks are not lost. Pension checks, if any, should also be made direct deposit.
Have the correct estate planning documents been prepared? Have your firm help you develop and execute a health care proxy selecting a representative to make your health care decisions when you can no longer do so. In addition you should consider signing a general durable power of attorney, if you have not already done so. New York insists you execute the New York approved statutory form which has a very important gift rider allowing your appointed agent to make certain types of gifts. This power can be invaluable to complete Medicaid planning, create trusts or make family gifts during your life time. Since it is such a “powerful” document allowing your Agent under this power of attorney (POA) to make substantial gifts in your lifetime, you are advised to seek the advice of an attorney before you sign this document. The durable power of attorney needs to include the ability to take action in “what if” cases, such as the need to enroll in Medicaid, access digital assets and set up any trusts. A durable power of attorney should be prepared before the person loses cognitive capacity. Once that occurs, they are not legally able to sign any documents, and the family will have to go through the guardianship process to become a legal guardian of the family member.
Please call our office anytime for assistance in your Estate Planning, Long Term Care Planning, Medicaid or Special Needs Planning: (718) 238-6960 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be happy to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys.