Tale of Caution: Failure to Plan for a Special Needs Child

One of the most difficult things an adult child may have to do is step in when they feel their parent is suffering from the impacts of Alzheimer’s or Dementia. While hard, what is even worse is when the child does not step in and waits too long. The following Tale of Caution could happen to anyone.

Susan has been noticing that her father, William, who lives alone, has been struggling with his memory for over a year. She had mentioned it to him once before, but it caused an argument so she dropped it. She asked him about his legal documents and he said he would get his affairs in order soon. The memory started as little things, such as forgetting the date or appointments, but lately has escalated. Last week, the police had him in custody as he had left his house to go to the store and forgotten who he was and how to get back home. This week, William injured himself while cooking and was taken to the hospital by ambulance, but was unable to recall anything about what happened and who his next of kin was. He was diagnosed with dementia and it was recommended he no longer lives alone as he cannot take care of himself and was deemed unfit to make decisions for himself.

Susan, as his only child out of three living in the state, expected to be made Power of Attorney and his Health Care Proxy. The problem is, however, that William is not of sound mind and medically is no longer cleared to sign these directives. Even if William has a lucid day later that week and wishes Susan to be in charge of his estate, he would discover he is no longer allowed to make decisions regarding his estate or sign any legal documents. Although her siblings are in agreement, Susan cannot easily be given legal rights to make financial and medical decisions. She now has to go to court to establish a Conservatorship for her father in order to be granted the right to make these types of decisions. If one of her siblings changes his/her mind about Susan being granted these rights, an even longer court battle can ensue.

If Susan had stepped in at the first sign of memory problems and sought an appointment with her father and an attorney, they could have had a financial Power of Attorney, medical Power of Attorney, and his written permission for her to access his medical records. Now, Susan must wait to see if she can be established as these things and has no legal rights. This is also the time where long lost relatives can crawl out of the woodwork, especially if there is a sizable estate.

Don’t wait for your loved one to be in the advanced stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease before stepping in. While it might be uncomfortable in the beginning, establishing legal documents and having an attorney prepare the estate ahead of time will save the family valuable time and money later on. Even if your parents or loved ones are completely fine, early planning with an attorney can allow them to choose who they want to be on their directives, as their Powers of Attorney, and make decisions for them in the event that they are unable to.

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