Posted on Nov 09, 2017
Sherri M. Stinson, Guardianship, Estate Planning, Estate Attorney
While the holidays bring joy for many, it is often a stressful time. We reunite with loved ones that we may talk to often, but only see a few times a year. You may visit with your parents and note that something is not quite right. Mom seems to be forgetting things, she seems disoriented and her words are sometimes jumbled. She's irritable, her personality has changed, she is having mood swings and seems depressed and paranoid. And you wonder, are these signs of dementia (the answer may be yes)?
While out in the community yesterday, I met a delightful lady who relayed that her mother had recently been diagnosed with dementia, and she wished that they had planned what to do with mom before she was diagnosed. She relayed the stress and frustration of being a caregiver. Then she asked "what could we have done differently?" The most important thing any of us can do is plan for old age and incapacity. We will all get old, and many of us will suffer from some sort of incapacity, whether it is the infirmities of old age or having a catastrophic car acident.
If you have parents who are aging, but still mentally intact, it is important to discuss who would take care of them and how the care would be paid for prior to a devastating diagnosis. One way to plan for the future is through proper estate planning. A document called a "power of attorney," will help someone handle your finances in the event of incapacity. A document called a "health care surrogate," will enable someone to handle your medical decisions in the event of incapacity.
If you have a parent who is already incapacitated and you do not have any documentation to manage their affairs, there are options. One option is called "guardianship," where you ask the local court for authority to handle mom or dad's affairs. There is a popular misconception that once a guardianship is filed that the person "becomes a ward of the state." This is simply not true. It is true that an incapacitated person is called a "ward." However, they are not a "ward of the state," which implies that the State has taken over the person's affairs. In most instances, the court appoints a family member to be the guardian. In instances where there are family disagreements over mom or dad or there is simply noone who is able or willing to serve as guardian, the court can appoint a professional guardian. Professional guardians have bonds with the court, ensuring that the ward's assets are safe. Both professional and family guardians are subject to court oversight, to ensure that the ward is being properly taken care of by the guardian.
If you have a loved one who is suffering from incapacity, ask for help from lawyers, health care specialists and the community. My firm specializes in guardianship and estate planning. Our goal is to take stress away from our clients and their family members, and guide clients through various life stages.