May 19, 2021
As many of you know, this is the second time in my life and career that first-hand elder law experience has touched me and my family. Ten years ago, my father-in-law developed Alzheimer’s dementia and my husband took the helm. I recently was able to experience the drama of elder law from the other side of the table with my parents. I am creating this blog series to share my experiences with the hope that you will avoid some of these mistakes.
In April, my dad had a health crisis that landed him in the hospital for three weeks with a severe infection, which morphed into sepsis. To add another layer to the drama, my dad is the primary caregiver for my mom, who has fairly advanced dementia.
It’s shocking how fast things can move from normal to crisis. The first wake up came in the form of a phone call from my younger brother on a Friday evening. Since he lives in Maine and was calling at 6 p.m. California time, I knew deep down something was wrong. He told me dad was at the hospital, because he developed pain in his knee that was so bad, he couldn’t stand it. My dad is the classic stoic New Englander; never complains and has a very high tolerance for pain. So, this was really, really bad.
The next thing my brother told me was that he and dad were going to leave mom home alone and he would just check in on her in the morning. Yikes! Mom is at the point where she needs constant supervision and help with almost all daily tasks. Leaving her alone, in a two-story house, would have been a recipe for bad things.
Fortunately, the caregiver, Amanda, who I encouraged my parents to hire three years ago to help mom with bathing and dressing, was at the house when all this transpired. Possessing many years of experience helping dementia patients, she jumped into action and talked some sense into dad and my brother. She agreed to stay the night and share shifts with my brother over the weekend. And, she told my brother it was time to call me. As I later learned, my dad and brother didn’t want to “bother” me, because I live across the country and “she’s busy.”
I initially located Amanda by working with a Geriatric Care Manager (GCM) to assess my mom’s care needs and help find appropriate local help. Once again, I contacted Martha, the GCM, this time for help finding a care facility for mom. I picked her brain about local facilities, our chances for getting mom into one quickly, and what to expect with Covid restrictions.
While Martha worked on finding a facility that would take mom and figuring out how to get her a Covid test, I went into lawyer mode gathering documents and assessing where things stood, and who was able to speak and act for my parents. By that time, my dad was pretty out of it and on heavy doses of morphine. He was not going to be able to help with coordinating care, signing documents, or making medical decisions for mom. What I learned was a bit shocking and a small slap in the face given what I do for a living.
The elder law attorney’s parents have no documents – well, just a lackluster financial durable power of attorney for mom and 40-year-old wills! Yes, I talked to them on several occasions about getting their ducks in a row and I even helped them create the documents one time; but they were never signed. To add a little insult, mom’s durable power of attorney named my dad as her initial agent and my brother as the backup agent. I was not named at all. Luckily, I learned that under Maine law, the next of kin (me) has the power and authority to make health care decisions. By Monday, we located a good facility willing to take mom as a respite patient. By the end of Tuesday, we had negative Covid results and mom was driven across town to the care facility. It was a whirlwind! It is difficult to do this long distance and with limited help; but it’s important to know that resources are available.
Next time, Part Two: Don’t Be a Hero – Hiring the Right Professionals.