What You Owe Your Family
If You Have a Preliminary Diagnosis of Alzheimers

by Lisa Nachmias Davis, Esq.[*]

           It is scary to be told that you are suffering memory loss, and worse, that you may have Alzheimer's.  The "A" word is probably as frightening as the "C" word, cancer.  It is natural that you will be thinking of your own mortality and fearing the changes that may lie ahead for you.

          I'm not a clergyman, philosopher, or therapist. I can't help you with the cosmic questions such as "why me" or "what does it all mean" or "what's on the other side." But as a Connecticut lawyer, I can tell you this: if you love your family, then while you still can, you owe it to them to do what you can to ease the burden your illness will place upon them.
          Here are some practical steps you can take. 
          FIRST Health Care Advance Directives.  Sign the documents that your loved ones will need in order to make health care decisions for you when you cannot act for yourself. You should also designate a conservator in the event that you become incapable and the health care directive is not enough. This can save time and money. Fortunately, the State of Connecticut has a form that is online and you can do this even without a lawyer.  Don't pick just one:  make sure there is a back-up plan if the person you prefer isn't there for you.
          SECOND:  Financial Durable Power of Attorney.  It will be hard enough for your family to deal with all the financial matters on their own, without the extra burden of and expense of going to probate court to be appointed your financial conservator. If you sign a durable power of attorney, you decide who will act for you.  If you don't want to lose control now, fine:  let your attorney hold the document until the time comes, or ask about a "springing power." Recommendations:

Don't just name one person, even your spouse -- include an alternate, if you can.

If you're married, ask the attorney to include a provision allowing your agent to transfer assets from you to your spouse.

You may want the document to authorize gifts to children or others, but your family should be aware that these gifts are problematic even if they won't affect Medicaid (gifts to a disabled child or caregiver in some cases.) Act cautiously.

Include a provision allowing the agent to transfer your assets and income to a "trust described in 42 U.S.C. 1396p(d)(4)."  This is a kind of trust that is used for your sole benefit but which doesn't count when it comes to Medicaid eligibility.  If you aren't low-income, you may need it if you want Medicaid for home care.

Include a provision allowing your agent to access and take distributions from your retirement accounts, convert them to annuities, and change beneficiaries.

           THIRD:  Get timely legal advice.  (1) If you are married:  advise your spouse to get expert legal help before spending too much on your care.  The law provides MANY protections for your spouse's financial well-being, but it's important to get good advice before it's too late.  (2) Don't make major gifts (over $1,000) without consulting an attorney.  Gifts may impact Medicaid eligibility and can have other serious drawbacks.  (3) Most important:  make sure that any attorney you consult has your interests at heart first and foremost. You may love your children and others, but you have to look out for yourself, and your spouse if you have one, first.

©Lisa Nachmias Davis, Davis O'Sullivan & Priest, LLC, New Haven CT 06510, and published on the website www.sharinglaw.net.  This article is not LEGAL ADVICE and creates no attorney-client relationship.