Memory Loss: 4 Common Legal Issues

As your loved one’s dementia advances, legal issues concerning their competency, safety, finances and general best interests can arise. “When someone with dementia has their wishes legally documented and has chosen a trusted power of attorney who will serve their best interests, families can avoid a lot of sticky legal situations,” says Suzy McCann, Community Relations Director of YourLife™ of Pensacola, a Memory Care community in Pensacola, Florida. “Of course, plans can change, powers of attorney can bow out or act unethically, and families can often be at odds regarding their loved one’s care decisions.” In this post, we will address four dementia-related legal issues families often face: 1. Documenting the Person’s Health, Financial and Legal Wishes 2. Court-Appointed Guardianship 3. Suspected Elder Abuse 4. When Caregivers Are Falsely Accused of Wrongdoing 1. Documenting the Person’s Health, Financial and Legal Wishes “It’s crucial to get all documents in place while the person is still able to make their health, financial and legal wishes known,” says McCann. “Legal plans take the agonizing guesswork out of ‘what would Mom want’ and can render conflicting opinions between family members moot.” Powers of attorney (POA) are right up there with wills and trusts. Should your loved one become unable to pay their bills or make long-term care decisions, for example, a power of attorney will have the legal authority to manage their finances and decide where the person lives or receives care. An elder law attorney can help you and your loved one obtain, understand and complete a healthcare proxy form; a state-specific advance directive for end-of-life care; and state-specific POLST/MOLST (Physician/Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) forms. Elder law attorneys who specialize in estate planning can also help your loved one navigate tax codes and other applicable laws related to: • When and how to transfer property to heirs • Tax and financial advantages of charitable trusts and gift annuities • Probate avoidance • Asset distribution, wills and trusts Read More: One Absolute Must For Everyone Who Has An Aging Parent With Memory Problems 2. Court-Appointed Guardianship When mentally incompetent individuals don’t have an active durable power of attorney, or the current POA wishes to resign as acting agent, those seeking guardianship must apply to the courts. In cases where there is a legal POA in place but family members or other concerned parties suspect the acting agent is incompetent or purposefully mishandling the person’s affairs, those parties may take legal action to revoke the current POA orders and assign a new guardian. Be advised that gaining court-appointed guardianship is a lengthy, costly endeavor, but the court’s thorough guardian-vetting process can bring peace of mind to families. The court will hold your loved one’s guardian accountable for the decisions they make on your loved one’s behalf. Generally, the court requires regular care, wellbeing and financial reports. Guardians must apprise the court of any changes in their own competency or ability to serve as a capable guardian. Read More: Who's in Charge? Getting Guardianship of Someone with Dementia 3. If You Suspect Elder Abuse Elder abuse comes in many forms. Because seniors with memory loss are often unable – or too embarrassed – to report abuse, it’s important to be mindful of signs. If you suspect your loved one is being physically or emotionally abused, neglected, or taken advantage of financially, report what you’ve witnessed, or heard from credible sources, to your state’s elder rights agencies. In many states, elder abuse is a criminal offense. Provide financial statements and a record of specific events or patterns of abuse that will be helpful to law enforcement and legal professionals investigating and prosecuting your case. Financial abuse of older adults is extremely common, with billions of dollars lost every year to scamming strangers, scheming family members and “friends,” and unethical caregivers. It’s a good idea for you or your loved one’s POA to monitor bank and credit card statements regularly and take other recommended actions to catch and prevent financial abuse. Read More: What To Do If You Suspect a Senior Is Being Financially Abused or Exploited 4. When Caregivers Are Falsely Accused of Wrongdoing What do you do if YOU are accused of abusing your loved one? It happens more often than caregivers might think. Whether it is due to dementia or out of spite, your loved one or other family members might accuse you of financial misappropriation, failure to perform duties, or even physical abuse. Even if their claims are unfounded, you may be investigated by Adult Protective Services or find yourself in family or criminal court, defending your innocence and position as your loved one’s primary caregiver or POA. How to Protect Yourself from False Accusations of Caregiver Incompetency or Elder Abuse • Know your responsibilities as primary caregiver and/or POA and perform them to the best of your ability • Keep careful financial records of all transactions you make in your loved one’s name • Keep records of all medical, dental and senior services appointments and outcomes • Be transparent with family members regarding your loved one’s affairs • Encourage family members to be involved in your loved one’s daily life and care Know your state’s laws regarding penalties for false claims. If someone plans to make false accusations against you out of spite or for their own financial gain, harsh penalties may deter them from making formal charges. If your accuser is convinced your actions are not in your loved one’s best interest or abusive, be prepared for an investigation and consult an attorney specializing in elder fraud and abuse defenses. Read More: What to Do If Falsely Accused of Elder Abuse Learn how YourLife™ of Pensacola helps families protect their loved ones and themselves. Contact our team at 850-290-2632 today. The Memory Care Your Loved One Deserves. Offering the very best in Memory Care, YourLife™ of Pensacola was designed specifically with residents in mind. We’ve created a community where residents can define their own lifestyle, based on their preferences, needs and story, all while having the peace of mind of 24-hour support and the freedom to define their own lifestyles. Because we focus solely on Memory Care, all our resources and attention are on catering to each resident’s needs while providing unmatched peace of mind for families. Our licensed nurses and YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists are on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide personally inspired care and support, no matter what your needs. With such dedicated care, our residents have the support they need to live as independently and engaged as possible. At YourLife™ of Pensacola, YourStory comes to life. Whether you want to enjoy our exclusive activities and YourStory programming, spend time exploring our services and amenities, relax in our easy-to-navigate Memory Care neighborhoods and living areas or try something new, the choice is entirely up to you. Contact us to learn more!