October 4, 2014 • By Dennis Beaver
For readers whose parents, grandparents or other family members are over 65, the twin storms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease could be headed in your direction.
These joint nightmares steal the very essence of humanity from their victims, causing irreversible deterioration of mental faculties, often driving both patient and family care givers to the brink of madness.
As author Lisa Cerasoli learned this caring for her grandmother, Nora Jo, “The pain of these horrible conditions drills itself right through the heart and soul of family, especially when caring for a family member. With issues of property and money belonging to your loved one, families are often torn apart.
“The last thing anyone wants to deal with are legal problems. Fortunately, my grandmother had thought about that years before she was became ill and her lawyer had her sign all of the proper documents giving me the ability to care for her and handle financial affairs.
“What I’ve learned from speaking across America about caregiving, is that most families don’t have these important documents in place, so that when a loved one receives this diagnosis, it is often too late, and your once loving extended family can turn on itself,” she told You and the Law.
Cerasoli brings home the reality of these conditions and tells readers what to expect in her award-winning book, “As Nora Jo Fades Away — Confessions of a Caregiver” and documentary short “14 Days with Alzheimer’s.” She writes with humor, but when you watch the video, have a box of Kleenex handy.
“Families need to deal with these matters when everyone is healthy, if at all possible. It’s that ounce of prevention which means there is one less hassle when your world turns upside down,” she maintains, and we completely agree.
Three critically important documents
When asked, “What are the most important documents children should encourage Mom and Dad have prepared by their lawyer?” estate planning attorneys Linda Monje of Bakersfield and Michael Noland of Hanford, gave identical answers:
(1) A HIPPA authorization for the release of medical information;
(2) An Advance Health Care Directive;
(3) A Durable Power of Attorney
No HIPPA? Then family and friends are denied needed medical information
“On a HIPPA form, you list the individuals who your doctor may release information to. Without it, while somewhat less of a hassle for married couples, it can be a nightmare for other family members or friends who call the doctor. They will be stonewalled, as it is illegal to release information to people who you have not designated,” Monje observes.
Noland believes that adult children need to be aware of these issues, “especially if a parent’s behavior suggests dementia or Alzheimer’s. Their illness could stand in the way of making sound judgments, and irrationally, they may not want you to speak with their doctors. But if that HIPPA authorization was signed well before, you will have access to medical records and their health care providers.”
Both attorneys recommend that anyone you have designated has a copy, as well as having one available when traveling.
Advance Health Care Directive
“What if you have a stroke, an accident, unconscious in a hospital, and health decisions need to be made? The Advance Health Care Directive, lets your physician, family and friends know your desires regarding health care, including end of life decisions,” Monje stated.
Noland was quick to point out: “A great deal of thought must go into who you designate as the person to make these decisions. The best time to decide is when you are healthy and not under time pressures. Remember, you will be giving someone the ability to discontinue life support.”
Durable Power of Attorney can prevent family power struggles
“With a Durable Power of Attorney you name someone to act for you regarding assets, dealing with third parties, making personal and financial decisions if you are unable to do so because of incapacity. The main benefit is that it may avoid the necessity of going to court to have a conservator appointed. It can go into effect immediately, or spring into effect upon the determination of incapacity by a third party such as your physician,” Noland explained.
“These are risky, powerful documents,” cautions Monje. “You’ve got to be so careful who you give this power to — the wrong person could wipe you out financially.”
“And what if mom was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia? It is too late?” we asked.
“In such a case, a declaration executed by her primary physician will be necessary to confirm her capacity and ability to direct the preparation of these documents, understand their content and powers she is giving to a third party,” Noland pointed out.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.