INTRODUCTION TO ELDER LAW FOR CAREGIVERS
Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. In addition to making sure that your loved one is safe and their daily needs are met, you are also faced with the fact that there are many financial and legal issues that must be addressed. As if that was not enough, you also are trying to provide the best quality of care at the least cost to the family. Caregiving is expensive and stressful, especially in these uncertain financial times. Hopefully, this article can provide you the financial and legal answers you need to do a better job.
Elder law is not just for senior citizens who are no longer independent or who are about to enter a nursing home. Elder law is for anyone who is middle aged and beyond – and sometimes even younger. There are now more than 5 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s. This is a 10% increase from 5 years ago, and clearly supports the long forecasted dementia epidemic. One in eight persons age 65 and over have Alzheimer’s disease and nearly half of all persons over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s. Every 72 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s disease; by mid-century someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.
You are not alone. There are over 50 million caregivers in this county. Studies show that 12 million people in this country need long term care. Twenty-one percent of American adults provide free caregiving for loved ones. Fifty-nine percent of these caregivers either work outside the home, or have worked outside the home, while providing care. It has been estimated that the value of free services given by caregivers is in excess of $310 billion a year. Additionally, as a result of caregivers, businesses are also effected by the caregiving epidemic. Specifically, over 60% of caregivers work and dedicate on average 18 hours per week to provide care. Family caregivers account for 73% of early departures and late arrivals in the workplace. Caregiving by an employee costs the average employer $2,100 per employee or for all employers as much as $33 billion annually. These services are provided by family members without regard to cost because of the love and respect they have for their loved ones.
These statistics only represent the economic cost of caregiving. It does not even address the emotional and physical toll on caregivers. The fact is that 70% of all caregivers over the age of 70 die first. People generally do not think about the health of the caregiver or plan for the unthinkable — the caregiver having health problems or passing away before their loved one with dementia. It is for this reason that we approach each situation from the worst case scenario. We plan for the worst and hope for the best, that way our clients are always protected.
We know that age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s and dementia related diseases, however, these diseases do not discriminate. We have helped clients who have loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia related diseases, some as young as their late 30’s. The time to look down the road and make major decisions regarding your health, well-being and finances is now.
It is important to understand the difference between an elder law attorney and an estate planning attorney. While estate planning attorneys are concerned with what happens to your estate upon your death, elder law attorneys ensure that your affairs can be managed in the event of your disability as well as once you pass away. Specifically, an experienced elder law attorney addresses the following tough questions like:
Who will make my medical decisions when I am no longer able to make them?
If I am unable to care for myself, how can I achieve the greatest quality of care without bankrupting myself or my family?
Who will be able to talk to my doctors and the hospital when I require guidance even though I am able to make my own medical decisions?
Who will make my end of life decisions?
What happens if I get sick and cannot stay in my home anymore?
How am I going to pay for it?
For caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s and related dementia, information regarding Medicaid and estate planning is a necessity. It is our hope that this guidebook will answer many common legal questions and that it will eliminate the belief that it is never too late to plan.
In these uncertain financial times, the proper long term care planning is more important than ever. Families who seek the proper professional advice will be able to protect significant portions of their assets, possibly all of their assets, in spite of these rocky financial times. However, families who fail to do the proper planning, will rapidly deplete their assets with the rising nursing home costs.
Written by: Danielle B. Mayoras and Don L. Rosenberg
Attorneys and Counselors