If you were one of the millions of people who tuned in to the final season of the tear-jerking drama This Is Us, you witnessed at least one all-too-real situation. The death of Rebecca’s second husband, Miguel, was shocking and heartbreaking, coming at the height of Rebecca’s Alzheimer’s symptoms. The episode chronicled Miguel’s tireless devotion to her care, the rigid routine he had developed to keep her steady, the worrisome health concerns he ignored in himself, and, ultimately, his death. Since Miguel had been caring for Rebecca without the help of other family members, his death throws them a major curve ball. However, because Rebecca had spoken to them years before about this possibility, her adult children knew what to do.
At Ross & Shoalmire, PLLC, we love a good TV drama as much as the next person, but this episode struck us as particularly accurate, given that we have seen this situation all too often. In fact, while a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s usually lives another 10 to 15 years, their spouse only has a three to five year life expectancy. That frightening statistic means that it is vital that caregivers have an estate plan that includes care for the person with Alzheimer’s.
What a Spousal Caregiver Estate Plan Should Include
Every person’s situation is unique. If you are caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and you work with us to create an estate plan, we will custom-design a plan to address your specific needs and desires. In general, we will recommend the following two-step plan to get started:
- Move assets into caregiver’s name. Most married couples own all of their marital assets jointly. This becomes a problem when the caregiver spouse dies because the spouse with Alzheimer’s then has assets in their name that they are incapable of managing. The first thing we will do is move all of the joint marital assets into the caregiver’s name.
- Set up a Special Needs Trust. Step two is to set up a Special Needs Trust (SNT) for the benefit of the spouse with Alzheimer’s. The Trust will inherit the assets upon the death of the caregiver, and the Trustee will be tasked with using the assets for the care of the incapacitated spouse. This money can be used to pay for their care without disqualifying them from benefits such as Medicaid.
As part of this plan, we will also draft documents, including a Will that outlines the plan and directs assets into the SNT and Powers of Attorney to grant decision-making power to a trusted representative in the event that the caregiver becomes incapacitated. No matter where you are in the Alzheimer’s journey, it is never too soon or too late to make an Estate Plan.
What If You Are Not Married to the Person With Alzheimer’s?
It is not only spouses who end up caring for a person with dementia. Siblings and adult children often end up in this role as well—sometimes after the spouse has died. Even though the Estate Plan might look different, it is equally important to have one in place. Because non-spouse caregivers don’t have the same legal access and rights as a married couple, it is essential that we get some legal documents signed and in place to ensure that you can provide the care—both personal and financial—that your loved one will need.
If we can go back to This Is Us for one minute, the key in that fictional story was that Rebecca had sat down with her adult children after her diagnosis but before she had lost her cognitive abilities and told them who she wanted to make decisions about her care if Miguel were to die before her. When the time came, her three children honored her wishes, and all was well. In our experience, life doesn’t usually work this way. Without a legally binding Power of Attorney document, there can be chaos in families who don’t have a clear direction. We encourage clients to visit us as soon as possible after an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis to put some plans in place immediately.
Are You Looking for an Estate Planning Attorney in Texarkana, TX?
If you are looking for Estate Planning advice after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you need to speak with an experienced Estate Planning attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Texarkana office directly at 903.223.5653. We also have offices in Tyler, Paris, Longview as well as Magnolia, AR!