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Legal Planning for Dementia Caregivers

The Patient’s Will for a Last Will

The stereotypical opening line of a last will and testament begins with, “I, (name), being of sound mind, do hereby bequeath . . . " Then, the testator lists the beneficiaries of his or her estate and other last wishes. The “sound mind” part is key to establishing the validity of the will and making sure the testator’s last wishes are carried out. When a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, it is important for the patient and caregivers to initiate legal procedures, like wills and power of attorney, while the patient can actively and coherently participate (*legal capacity).

Putting legal matters in order in advance can prevent confusion and even conflict over caregiving responsibilities and inheritance matters. It allows time to navigate complex legal and financial issues that can arise with long-term and end-of-life care situations. (NOTE: This article is not intended to provide legal advice and should not be taken as such.) 

Legal planning should include:

  • making plans for health care and long-term care (advance directive*).
  • making plans for finances and property (inheritance or disposition of property if the loved one is not returning home).
  • naming another person to make decisions on behalf of the person with dementia (power of attorney* or executor*).

No matter how large or small the estate or how complex or simple the situation appears, it is best to consult an attorney who specializes in elder law before taking any legal steps. This is especially important if you suspect that your loved one is or has been a victim of any scam or abuse, or has mishandled funds or property due to the onset of dementia.

Be ready to talk openly and accurately with the attorney. Subjects should include:

  • options for health-care decision-making for the person with dementia.
  • options for managing the person's personal care and property.
  • possible coverage of long-term care services, including what is provided by Medicare, Medicaid, veteran benefits, and other long-term care insurance.

Gather all documents relating to the assets of the person with dementia ahead of time so you can bring them to your appointment. Be sure to look for:

  • itemized list of assets (e.g., bank accounts, contents of safe deposit boxes, vehicles, real estate, etc.), including current value and the names listed as owners, account holders. and beneficiaries.
  • copies of all estate planning documents, including wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.
  • copies of all deeds to real estate.
  • copies of recent income tax returns.
  • life insurance policies and cash values of policies.
  • long-term care insurance policies or benefits booklets.
  • health insurance policies or benefits booklets.
  • admission agreements to any health care facilities.
  • list of names, addresses, and telephone numbers of those involved, including family members, domestic partners, and caregivers, as well as financial planners and accountants.

*Definitions

  • Legal capacity refers to a person’s soundness of mind and ability to intelligently understand his or her actions, and execute his or her will by signing documents.
  • There are two types of advance directives. The living will expresses the patient’s wishes regarding what life-prolonging treatments should be performed when the patient is terminal or in a persistent vegetative state. Medical power of attorney allows the appointee to make medical decisions should the patient be unable to make those decisions.
  • Power of attorney designates a responsible person who can make financial and other decisions on the patient’s behalf when he or she is no longer able.
  • The executor of a will manages the estate of the loved one after he or she passes away.

As much as possible, the loved one experiencing dementia should participate in the legal process. He or she should review all documents and decisions. This will not only avoid a messy future, making it easier for the caregivers — it also puts them at ease and makes them feel competent, as well as confident that their loved ones will take care of them and their wishes.

As much as possible, the loved one experiencing dementia should participate in the legal process. He or she should review all documents and decisions. This will not only avoid a messy future, making it easier for the caregivers — it also puts them at ease and makes them feel competent, as well as confident that their loved ones will take care of them and their wishes.

The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ created Sacred Heart Villa (formerly St. Michael Convent) in 2003 with the vision of providing a personal care home for the Sisters and other seniors of southeastern Pennsylvania. The Sisters renovated St. Michael in order to create 35 personal care residential rooms. Sacred Heart Villa officially opened her doors to her first new residents in May 2004, with space for 57 Sisters and 40 other senior residents.  The facility has two residential buildings, a remodeled dining room, a new fireside lounge, library, café and beauty shop. The chapel remains in the middle of the facility for it truly is the Heart of the community. Each new residential room provides an individual with privacy, safety, and security in an environment of beauty and grace. Mass is celebrated each day and is open to the public.

Sacred Heart Villa is now accepting residents. If you are seeking care for yourself or loved one, contact Sacred Heart Villa today at 610-929-5751 for a tour. You can also visit http://sacredheartvillapa.org. or visit us at http://www.sacredheartvillapa.org/.