Sunday, June 7, 2020

Does Your Loved One Have Dementia or Alzheimer’s? How to Talk About Estate Planning.

November 6, 2019 by  
Filed under Business, Health, Money, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( Every 65 seconds, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly six million people are living with some form of dementia right now, making it one of the top health concerns in the nation today.

If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the time is now to begin the estate planning process. While these conversations can feel uncomfortable, it is vital not to wait!

By acting now, you ensure your loved one is able to participate fully in the planning process and can clearly articulate their preferences and wishes to your elder law attorney.

These tips can help and guide you to initiate a conversation about estate planning that is healthy, productive and compassionate.

Do Your Own Personal Pre-Planning First

The first step you will want to take before approaching your loved one to talk about estate planning is to write down your goals for having this conversation.

Whether your goal is to discover when your loved one has an existing will that can be updated or to find out what their long-term care preferences may be, initiating these kinds of conversations can be stressful.

And sometimes that stress can wipe your brain of all the very articulate questions and ideas you wanted to share.

So write down your questions and your goals so you have something to refer back to once the conversation gets underway.

Create a Discussion Handout for Everyone

Based on your own pre-planning, it can often be helpful to print out a simple outline in question form that you can distribute to everyone.

Having a handout with questions and space to write answers not only shows that you have poured care and time into planning for this discussion, but it can help keep the conversation focused and productive.

This handout can also help keep you on task in between meetings – for example, if you ask a question and your loved one needs time to consider what their wishes and preferences are for that area and jot them down.

Be Very Patient and Yet Very Persistent

It is one thing to know that we are all going to die someday and another to receive a scary diagnosis and realize that that “someday” is not so far away now. Sometimes that awareness alone can trigger anger, fear or other forms of resistance to having estate planning discussions.

Your best approach will include one part patience and one part persistence. On the one hand, you feel that compassion and care for your loved one. On the other hand, you want them to have their say while their mental faculties still permit.

Invite an Objective Third Party to the Conversation

You know your own family history and each person’s personality and temperament better than anyone else. Some families are well able to converse pleasantly about even the most challenging topics, while other families will argue over which side of the toast should get the butter.

If your family dynamic falls towards the latter side, inviting an objective third party to join the conversation can help keep you all on topic and productive.

An elder law attorney can be an especially great choice here, because they will be knowledgable about what needs to be discussed to put the person’s affairs in good working order as quickly as possible.

Pick a Comfortable and Productive Setting

Depending on what stage your loved one’s disease is in, you may not have as much flexibility here as you might like. For loved ones in the very early stages, consider the best way to make sure the setting is quiet, homey and comfortable, free from unnecessary interruptions and accommodating to everyone in attendance.

For small families, this is often best accomplished by heading for the kitchen table or the living room sofa. For larger families where more siblings will be attending, you may want to ask your elder law attorney if they have a meeting room you might use.

Above All, Express Your Respect and Admiration

If there are two topics of conversation nearly guaranteed to generate strong emotions and opinions, they would be finances and mortality.

You can expect this and even plan for it by opening up the conversation with a statement showing your respect and admiration for your loved one.

  1. First, express your love and concern.

Express your love and concern for their wellbeing. State that you realize no one loves to talk about money or death, but you would rather bring up the difficult topic now than risk not knowing what they want and need when they really need it.

  1. Next, outline your role as facilitator.

Explain that you are just there to facilitate your loved one’s right to make choices and ensure those choices are honored in a way that is legal and binding.

  1. Be prepared with easy to read handouts and document templates.

Ask your elder law attorney to prepare template documents ahead of time and have them ready to share with your loved one as the meeting progresses. As best as you possibly can, make these documents easy to read and understand (i.e. mostly free from legalese, printed in a large plain font).

Highlight the areas on each document where your loved one needs to make decisions so they can refer back later, read through the information in those sections and jot down their notes about what they want.

  1. Keep the initial meeting to one hour or less.

It may take some time for your loved one to really think through their wishes, needs and goals. This first meeting is really just to identify the right questions and get them thinking about how to answer them.

Then you can set a follow-up meeting with your elder law attorney to put their wishes into writing during the estate planning process.

Staff Writer; Ronald Wall

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