Anyone with a spouse stricken by Alzheimer’s disease knows exactly how devastating the condition is on the patient and how taxing it can be on the person administering care. Often times, senior act as primary caregivers to their spouses battling Alzheimer’s, a testament to their love and commitment until the very end.
While the nature of alzheimer’s disease means afflicted persons do not often outlive their spouses, those acting as caregivers should nonetheless plan for contingencies such as these to ensure their surviving spouse is well taken care of. Depending on the disease’s progression and the overall health of each spouse, couples may need to plan differently to suit their individual situation.
First and foremost, elder spouses need to ensure their power of attorney is up to date and names the caregiver spouse as the primary decision maker for the individual afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, this document should give the caretaker the power to name another individual as the decision maker upon passing away.
Often times, successors to the deceased caregiver include surviving children or those best able to make financial and medical decisions for someone unable to do that for themselves. Whomever those individuals, trust is perhaps the most important characteristic to search for. In ideal scenarios, these individuals will already be named in power of attorney documents and allow for a smooth transition.
In cases where successors to the caregiver have not already be named in the power of attorney, it may be necessary to consult with the individual’s doctor and an attorney to enact a guardianship through the courts. In this scenario, a court will declare the individual unable to care for him or herself and given legal decision making authority to the healthy spouse.
The next steps should be to ensure the spouse diagnosed with Alzheimers does not have any assets in his or her name, particularly homes, businesses, or other property. The exceptions should be an active bank account to ensure monthly Social Security and pension disbursements continue to be collected and IRA or 401(K), which cannot be transferred to spouses but can be liquidated upon passing away.
Once all appropriate assets have been transferred to the caregiving spouse, he or she should set up a trust with beneficiaries named to watch over the estate and use to care for the surviving spouse with Alzheimer’s. Upon the passing of the second spouse, the beneficiaries (presumably the surviving children) would take full ownership of any assets in the estate.
Although some of this may seem slightly overwhelming, careful and considerate planning at the onset of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can greatly reduce the stress of figuring out who and how to care for an elder left to him or herself. Families with questions how to attain guardianships and set up trusts should consider speaking to an experienced New York elder lawyer about their situation.