News & Events

Planning for the spouse of the dementia patient

By: Bonnie Kraham

Elder Law Associates Newsletter dated August 10, 2017

When the doctor diagnoses one spouse with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, the other spouse usually is the caregiver. The focus falls on the dementia patient – their needs, the progression of the disease, getting their legal planning in order with a power of attorney, health-care proxy and living will, and perhaps a trust.
Often the caretaker spouse is forgotten in the confusion and grief over the dementia diagnosis.
Although it may seem predictable that the dementia patient will not outlive the well spouse, the caregiver spouse must also plan legally for the contingency of becoming ill and/or dying before the spouse with dementia. Studies have shown that death rates for caregiver spouses are higher than for noncaregivers of the same age. It is stressful and potentially harmful for your own health to be a caregiver.
Both spouses, not just the sick one, should sign powers of attorney and health-care proxies/living wills. These documents name people you choose to make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated. The living will communicates your desire to not be kept alive on life support if you are in a condition with no reasonable chance of recovery. Such “advance directives” preserve your autonomy and state your wishes.
The powers of attorney should be “elder law” powers of attorney that include unlimited gifting powers, which may save assets if you need a nursing home.
The risk of not creating advance directives is a guardianship proceeding, in which a judge chooses your legal guardian, sometimes a complete stranger to you. Guardianships are costly, lengthy and invasive into your privacy.