Has Grandpa Lost His Marbles or Am I Losing Mine?

Q. My father, Jim, has been a big help to our family. He picks up our daughter, Sophie, from preschool every day and watches her while my husband and I are working, which we are very grateful for. Lately, however, he has been forgetting a lot of important things. Last week, he forgot to take Sophie’s lunch from the refrigerator and she ended up not having a lunch to eat at school after I reminded him three times. A couple of days ago, he went to pick Sophie up at school when I was supposed to do so, and I was upset when I saw my daughter wasn’t there at pick-up and ready for her doctor’s appointment. He even once sent her to school with tights and a top and forgot to put on her skirt. I was mortified when the teacher called me at work.

I have also noticed things have changed when I talk to him. He forgets a lot of names of things and important details. I once brought it up with him and he insisted that he was okay, and changed the subject. My mother, Joan, acknowledges that he also has been forgetting to pay bills lately, but is convinced that forgetting things is a normal part of aging and that maybe he isn’t getting enough sleep. I wish that I could get them both on board with my concerns about dad, if they are indeed valid.

Again, we are so appreciative for all the help, and I know that he loves his granddaughter, but I am concerned for my father and for Sophie in his care. Am I right to be concerned? If so, how do I broach this difficult topic with him and my mother again without hurting his feelings or facing his denial and refusal to get checked out by a doctor? Also, from a legal perspective, what do we do if we find out that he is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?

A. Five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, with a new diagnosis being made every seventy-two seconds, with millions more at risk. Although experts agree that early diagnosis and treatment are essential, some people with memory loss, such as your father, often don’t think that there is a problem and are unwilling to get screened.

One of the hardest conversations an adult child can have with an aging parent is about their concerns regarding their aging parents’ health, safety and/or finances.  Because of the difficulty of such topics, many families don’t have the conversation until it is too late.

Whether it’s caring for your daughter or forgetting to pay the bills, making mistakes while doing something one has done for many years is alarming, and you have a right to be concerned. However, it sounds like getting your father to the doctor might be tricky, and getting your mother on board may be a challenge, as well. Below are some suggestions for when you do attempt to have the conversation once again with your family:

  • Be direct with your parents about the issues you observe with your father. It is possible to be direct, yet respectful.
  • Approach your parents with your concerns about your father, stressing your intent to help, not to criticize. 
  • Avoid ganging up on them or pushing them into a corner. Be casual, open-minded, but not too invested or persistent.
  • If your father currently trusts a relative, friend, or clergy person as someone who has all the right answers, ask this person to casually support your idea.
  • Don’t focus on your father’s deficits, but rather on what can be gained by early treatment.
  • Make it your issue rather than your parents. Tell them that you would rest easier knowing that your father has the most up-to-date information about how to retain his memory, function and quality of life.
  • If your parents react negatively, drop it and try again. If they still refuse, just tell them it’s so hard to get an appointment with the doctor, and that you scheduled an appointment far in advance just in case.
  •  If they react with anger, just say “I’m sorry – I mean well.” Suggest you go with them to the doctor and then go out to lunch or to some activity they really enjoy.

Once your family is agreeable, a good evaluation from a trusted doctor will give your family some answers about your father. Please read our blog post about the SAGE Test, a test that your father can complete at home and bring to his primary care doctor, who will determine if further evaluation is needed.

Once you are at the physician’s office, be sure to stay with your dad (and mom, if she comes too) for the examination. That way you can hear the doctor’s recommendations and get a first-hand report. If you stay in the waiting room, your dad may come out and report that all is well! He may not have understood the doctor’s message or have forgotten key parts of the conversation. Hopefully the physician will discover a reversible issue, such as a B-12 deficiency, a medication issue, or depression, and not dementia!

The Alzheimer’s Association has many suggestions about how to prepare for the evaluation and how to get the most out of your time with the doctor or evaluation team. You’ll be surprised by the number of successful but quite different approaches families use to insure timely evaluation of changes in memory and thinking.

When it comes to legal planning, if your father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, creating a plan for your father’s future in the early stage of the disease can be empowering and can ensure that his wishes are met. The sooner he establishes his legal plans, the better prepared your family will be.

Our firm, the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. (www.VirginiaElderLaw.com) is dedicated to helping protect seniors and individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security. With proper planning, when the time comes for your father to enter a nursing home, your family can retain all of the assets and most or all of the income while Medicaid takes care of the nursing home.  Proper planning also helps to ensure that your mother will be able to maintain her dignity and standard of living.  Read more about the services we offer to help families in similar situations, then call us at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

What You Need to Know Before Choosing Cremation

Cremation is quickly becoming a preferred method of memorial in the U.S., and it is projected that 40-45% of those who pass away will be cremated this year, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Projections are that nearly 60% of the U.S. population will be choosing cremation by the year 2025. 

Many people request their cremated remains (or cremains) be scattered in a place that held meaning to the loved one and their family. In Virginia, there are no state laws controlling where you may keep or scatter ashes. However, there are regulations when it comes to scattering ashes on public land, federal land, at sea, or in the air. Below are some options that you have, and some things you should take into account:

  • Scattering ashes in an established scattering garden: Many cemeteries provide gardens for scattering ashes. If you’re interested, ask the cemetery for more information.
  • Scattering ashes on private land. You are allowed to scatter ashes on your own private property. If you want to scatter ashes on someone else’s private land, it is wise to obtain permission from the landowner. If permission is granted be sure that you get that permission in writing.  Also, be clear about whether family members will later be allowed to go onto the landowner’s property to pay respects to the loved one.  A landowner might well allow a one-time intrusion on their land, but not wish to have family members dropping by whenever they wish.
  • Scattering ashes on public land: While many people approach scattering ashes in public places with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, scattering cremated remains in a public place requires permission and may be subject to special permitting and various restrictions. Municipalities and states have rules and restrictions that restrict scatterings.  To be safe, family members should check with the state or local governing authority before scattering a loved one’s remains in a park or other public place. 
  • Scattering ashes on federal land: Officially, you should request permission before scattering ashes on federal land. As with local or state land, however, you will probably encounter no resistance if you conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks. For more information, begin your search at the website of the National Park Service.
  • Scattering ashes at sea. The federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. The U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) does not permit scattering at beaches or in wading pools by the sea. Finally, you are supposed to notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea. The Clean Water Act also governs scattering in inland waters such as rivers or lakes. For inland water burial, you may be legally required to obtain a permit from the state agency that manages the waterway. For more information, including the contact information for the EPA representative in Virginia, see Burial of Human Remains at Sea on the EPA website.
  • Scattering ashes by air: There are no state laws on the matter, but federal aviation laws prohibit dropping any objects that might harm people or property. The U.S. government does not consider cremains to be hazardous material, so all should be well so long as you remove the ashes from their container before scattering.

If you are requesting that your remains be scattered in a particular place, work with an estate planning attorney, such as myself, to find out in advance if your loved ones will be able to honor your wishes and, if they can, what will be required of them. If you’re curious about some other options for disposing of your body after death, please read our blog post about non-traditional post-mortem options.

If you have a family member that wishes to be cremated upon death, the consent for cremation is included as part of our proprietary 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive(TM), which enables you to set forth your preferences with regard to organ donation, funeral arrangements, and disposition of remains.

If you have not done Incapacity Planning (including our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive(TM) and Financial Power of Attorney), Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. as soon as possible at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to schedule your appointment for our introductory consultation.

Disastrous Estate Planning Mistakes — Part 6

In the past, our newsletter featured a series of articles entitled “Lessons Learned from Estate Planning Mistakes of Celebrities,” demonstrating why probate is such a nightmare and lessons that can be learned from the costly mistakes of celebrities. Celebrities, including James Gandolfini, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Etta James, and Michael Crichton, who made estate planning mistakes, were explored. We will now continue this series with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away earlier this month and hadn’t updated his estate plan in 10 years, leaving his companion $35 million and a hefty tax bill, and his young daughters empty-handed.

For the last 14 years of his life, Hoffman was in a relationship with costume designer Marianne (Mimi) O’Donnell, whom he had met when they were both working on the play In Arabia We’d All Be Kings in 1999. They lived in New York City and had a son, Cooper, born in 2003, and two daughters, Tallulah, born in 2006, and Willa, in 2008. Hoffman and O’Donnell separated in the fall of 2013, just a few months before his death.

In a 2006 interview, Hoffman revealed that he had entered a drug rehabilitation program in 1989 and remained sober for 23 years until relapsing with heroin and prescription medications in 2012. He subsequently checked himself into drug rehabilitation for approximately 10 days in May 2013.  On February 2, 2014, Hoffman was found dead in the bathroom of his West Village, Manhattan office apartment, and heroin and prescription drugs were found at the scene.

Hoffman’s Will was apparently drawn up in 2004 when his son, Cooper, was one-year old.   Unfortunately, Hoffman apparently never updated his Will, even after the birth of his two daughters. Reports vary tremendously with regard to whom he left his estate to.  The TMZ website claims to have obtained a copy of his will and claims that he left his entire estate, supposedly valued at roughly $35 million, to O’Donnell.  However, TMZ does not appear to have posted a copy of the Will on their website.  The only link to a copy of the Will that I can find is from the New York Post website; however, the copy of the Will that they link to is woefully incomplete, in that it skips from the first sentence of the Third Article of his Will (which is the Residuary Clause because it starts of by stating that he leaves “all the rest, residue and remainder of my estate . . .”) the to the last sentence of the Sixth Article, leaving out all of the critical provisions of the Will that state what happens to his estate.  The Second Article leaves all of his tangible personal property to O’Donnell, but tangible personal property is essentially the contents of his home(s) – things like furniture, jewelry, artwork, etc.  Tangible personal property does NOT include money or investments or real estate, which presumably makes up the bulk of his estate.  So suffice it to say that without seeing the full copy of his Will, I can’t say for certain to whom he left his estate.

There are numerous reports that the actor set up a trust for Cooper and named O’Donnell as the trustee of the funds, but not a single report states how much or what percentage of his estate was left in trust for his son, nor is it clear, without reading the entire Will, whether he made provisions for his two daughters who were born after the writing of his Will. He may or may not have according to various contradictory news reports.

So, ignoring all of the possibly incorrect information out there, and ignoring the mistake made by whoever scanned his incomplete Will, what is the huge, drastic mistake that Hoffman made? Very simply –  like thousands of people and at least dozens of celebrities, he used a Last Will and Testament to distribute his Estate instead of using a Living Trust.  Because he used a Last Will and Testament instead of a Living Trust, his financial affairs – and the financial affairs of his beneficiaries — will be known to the public and will have to go though the nightmare of the New York probate system.  New York has a very detailed probate system set forth in both the state law and the court rules. As it is in most states, probating an estate in New York can be time-consuming, taking up to 2 years or longer to complete. It can also be extremely expensive (especially in large estate), eating away anywhere from 3% to 8% of the assets of his estate – and taking that money away from the beneficiaries.  This doesn’t include estate taxes, inheritance taxes, and income taxes that may be due and payable during the course of the probate administration.

Had Hoffman used a Living Trust, then his estate wishes would be private and not in the public eye, which is full of swirling rumors and misinformation about what he did or did not do.  The cost of settling a Living Trust range anywhere from less than 1% to 3% of your assets — much less than the costs of probate, which is another huge advantage of the Living Trust. 

We advise that our clients should almost always use a Living Trust as their primary Estate Planning tool, in order to protect assets at death from having to go through the nightmare of probate.  A Will allows you to direct who receives your assets (i.e., who are your beneficiaries) and who manages your estate (i.e., who acts as your executor), but a Will does NOT protect your assets from becoming public knowledge and going through probate.  Only a properly-funded Living Trust protects your assets from going through the nightmare of probate.

In addition, in this situation, because Hoffman and O’Donnell were not married and New York state does not recognize common law unions, there will almost certainly be a huge estate tax bill on his estate. Since Hoffman is said to have amassed a $35 million estate, the federal tax bill alone will probably be around $12 million (40% of $30 million, because the first $5.34 million goes free of Estate Tax). On top of this, the New York Daily News reports that New York is one of only 14 states still imposing its own Estate Tax, and it has only a $1 million exemption.  According to an attorney writing for About.com, the New York estate tax rate is a progressive one that starts at 5.085% and rises to 16% for the amount above $10,040,000.  So everything above $1 million will be subject to New York Estate Tax on top of Federal Estate Tax, and approximately $25 million of his estate will be subject to the highest New York Estate Tax of 16%.  That’s another $4 million in New York Estate Tax, and that’s ignoring the New York Estate tax of $9 million of his estate.

Why all the concern about Estate Taxes?  Because Hoffman could have done several things to make his Estate more tax-efficient, including marrying O’Donnell (in which case all money he left to her would have avoided Federal Estate Tax until her subsequent death). Giving monetary gifts small enough to avoid taxes during his lifetime would have been one approach, and he may have done some of that. He also could have established specialized trusts that would have sheltered some of his estate from taxes, as well.

Hoffman’s second biggest blunder was not updating his estate. You never want to go 10 years without updating your estate planning. Once you have met with an experienced Estate Planning attorney (preferably a Certified Elder Law Attorney such as myself) and created your estate planning documents, you need to make sure you update them regularly (at least every 3-5 years, but as often as yearly depending on the type of document). This is the only way to ensure that your estate plan truly reflects who you are, what you care about, and what you have.

So, when are updates needed? Have there been any changes in your family structure, financial circumstances, or health? Examples of events that could have a significant impact on your estate can include if you get married or divorced, if you have a new child or grandchild, if you or your child becomes disabled, if you retire, and others. Read our blog post about when to update your estate planning documents for more details.

Even if no changes are necessary, you should annually sign an updated Powers of Attorney. Some financial institutions won’t accept a Power of Attorney more than a year old. Similarly, the older an Advance Medical Directive is, the less likely it is that it will be honored by a doctor or hospital.

Don’t let too much time pass between reviews of your plan. The cost of a review is minimal; but as you can see from Mr. Hoffman’s situation, the cost to your family if you neglect your plan could be disastrous.  If any of the changes described above have happened to you or if you haven’t updated your estate plan in the last few years, the time is now. Call the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to update your estate plan!  Ask about The Farr Law Firm’s Lifetime Protection Program, which ensures that your documents are properly reviewed and updated as needed, so that they will have the proper effect under the law.  In addition, if you haven’t done your estate planning and want to get started, please call us to set up an appointment for a introductory consultation.

Do You Have Alzheimer’s?

The Alzheimer’s Association recently launched a new online resource, entitled “I Have Alzheimer’s Disease,” which provides information and tools to help those with early-stage Alzheimer’s or another dementia to cope with the changes ahead, and resources for caregivers, family members, or friends of those with Alzheimer’s.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is life changing. The “I Have Alzheimer’s Disease” resource offers real-life accounts from those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and tips on how to plan, prepare, and seek support.  The site also provides a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and tips on how you or your loved one can live their life with Alzheimer’s to the fullest.

According to Terry Berry, who is a member of the Alzheimer’s Association National Early-Stage Advisory Group, “This site should be the first “Go To” after diagnosis. It’s comforting to hear directly from individuals who are also living with the disease — we all experience the disease differently, but we can gain so much from each other’s perspectives.”

For more details visit the site and view this video featuring those who are living with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, to find out more about what it is like to live with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, please read our recent article, “What Dementia is Really Like – The Virtual Tour.”

Persons with Alzheimer’s and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Alzheimer’s Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementias.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, or a family member who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

Helping further the cause of Elder Law nationally

I’m very humbled but glad to announce that I have been elected Vice President of the National Elder Law Foundation Board of Directors. If you know me, you know that I am pretty simple. I studied hard in school and worked hard to get anything that I got. Becoming an attorney was a struggle with small children at home and working full time. As you probably know, I practiced general practice for a year and hated it. I knew that I needed to either go back to Physical Therapy or figure out some other area of the law on which to focus. My career as a PT had always focused on the elderly. I did some research and discovered that there was the area of the law that focused on working with the elderly. I jumped in with both feet.

In most areas of the law, most attorneys are willing to assist you to get started. That was not the case with elder law. I learned this pretty much by myself. Once I got into it, I learned that elder law is one of the few areas that allow for an attorney to specialize and to become certified. I then set my sights on becoming a Certified Elder Law Attorney. There was only one in the state at the time (he was very helpful when I asked, by the way) and I wanted more than anything to become the second.

Having practiced for 5 years and having done what I thought was needed to sit for the test, I then took the test. I did NOT pass. How dare them not pass me!!!! I was devastated at having not proven myself worthy. Looking back, I did not deserve to pass. I then really studied and then passed on my second attempt. That was one of the happiest days of my life since that designation told me that I knew what I was doing but also let the world know that I was worthy of holding the designation of Certified Elder Law Attorney. There are very few attorneys that have that designation and I knew that put me into a very small but distinguished group of attorneys in the state and nationally.

Then a few years later, I received a phone call from the then President of the Board of Directors, Steven Spano, who I respected greatly, wanting me to be on the Board. “What!!?!?! Me, Todd Whatley, a guy from Arkansas who stuttered and was made fun of as a kid, now being on this national board???” I was floored. I told Mr. Spano that would be honored to be on the board of such a great organization and to also share a board seat with the true leaders of the profession. I thought then my career goal had been met. They gave me some pretty high goals to meet regarding marketing CELA’s nationwide. I’ve done that with all of my abilities and with the help of other board members and other CELA’s throughout the country, the fruit of that is coming to light and over the next few months, that will become very obvious. When I was nominated Vice President, once again, I was highly honored and shocked.

The National Elder Law Foundation is doing some great work. We work to certify attorneys that meet the very strict requirements to carry the designation. We are currently under fire because some very good attorneys have not passed the test. The test grading is truly anonymous and the graders want to feel confident that the person they are grading knows this sufficiently well so as that they would feel comfortable referring a close friend to that person. As a grader, I have seen answers that make me feel good but then some of the answers were truly lacking. We also continuously monitor the attorneys that carry the designation to ensure that they continue to meet the requirements.

I’m not sure why I am posting this other than to let the world know that I feel so blessed to be involved with a great organization and then I am honored for that organization to see fit to put me in such a high level of leadership. I am truly grateful. Keep an eye on the NELF website (nelf.org) over the next few months. Also, tell the elderly folks and their families that you know that there are attorneys out there that know how to work with the elderly and their families. Also, it’s almost never too late to do something to help. Those attorneys that have the designation of CELA are well versed in this area of law but there are also attorneys out there that for what ever reason don’t have the designation, also know what to do, but they are harder to distinguish.

I am proud to be a CELA and am honored to work so closely with some truly remarkable people.

Mind Your Elders (or They May Whack You With a Cane)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 35% of Americans over 65 are considered physically fit. Many people don’t realize the countless benefits of exercise, including how it helps:  reduce the risk of many diseases; stave off depression; manage stress; and keep our minds sharp. In some instances, exercise can even lower the risk of falls and improve peace of mind, particularly for seniors with canes.

Relying on a cane was once considered a sign of an aging, weakened body. Today, some seniors are finding empowerment through their canes by using them for both exercise and self-defense, through a technique known as “Cane Fu.”

Cane Fu is a form of martial arts, that provides seniors who use canes with a way to exercise, gain better balance, and learn self-defense. At Cane Fu classes, seniors are taught to walk tall and not to look like victims. They’re taught to avoid conflict, but also to feel secure that they have a cane at their side.

Mark Shuey, who created Cane Fu, is a 65-year-old martial arts expert who is trained in all manners of fighting techniques. Ten years ago, he noticed his elderly father refusing to use his cane because of the stigma it created. Around that time, he learned that several elderly people near his brother’s house in Florida were robbed while carrying their canes.  This inspired Shuey to invent his specialized martial arts program for seniors.

Today, there are more than 300 instructors around the world teaching Cane Fu. Not all Cane Fu students are senior citizens, but it’s still most popular among seniors.

According to Cane Fu veteran Barbara Fender, “This is an opportunity for us to be able to take care of ourselves. With the cane, I feel safe.”

Watch a recent video about Cane Fu.

At the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. (www.VirginiaElderLaw.com), we are excited to share exercise techniques, such as Cane Fu, and how they promote good health, well-being, and peace of mind. Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors and individuals with special needs by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.


The Extra Stress of Caregiving in a Second Marriage

Q. I am a caregiver for my husband of 10 years, Frank, who is 75 and has dementia. As his dementia is worsening, bills are piling up and decisions about long-term care need to be made. I am feeling alone, exhausted, and overwhelmed, and could use some help from my husband’s two adult daughters from his previous marriage. So far, asking them for assistance has been difficult, to say the least. When I call them on the phone, I get a lot of advice but no solutions and no offers of help from either one of them. I even called a family meeting to discuss how to manage things, but no one showed up. Is what I am describing common, and what do you suggest I do?

A. Every year, nearly one million people over the age of 65 marry for the second time, and many become the primary caregivers when his or her spouse develops a geriatric disease or dementia.  In many instances, as in your situation, when they reach out to the spouse’s children from the previous marriage they often find little help. 

In your question, you didn’t mention the relationship your stepdaughters have with their father. Maybe your husband’s children are unwilling to help because they feel anger towards their father as a result of their parent’s divorce.  Maybe your  husband’s children blame you for their family pain, or disagree with decisions you have made concerning his care.  Alternatively, maybe his children are simply focused on raising their own families and building their careers.  Even if your husband’s children want to help, they are often limited in what help they can provide. 

A recent study published in The Journal of Marriage and Family confirms that those who remarry later in life face some unique challenges when dealing with an ailing spouse.  Researchers interviewed 61 women for the study and found cases where adult stepchildren refused to believe a diagnosis of dementia or refused to participate in decision-making about caregiving. Some women had had lawsuits filed against them by their husband’s adult stepchildren, claiming money was being misspent. Generally, these women felt that their stepfamilies created conflict or that their support was minimal or nonexistent.

Dr. Carey Wexler Sherman, one of the researchers who conducted the study, hopes that by shedding some light on the difficulties faced by these caregivers, professionals can help them come up with strategies to get the support they need.  Having gained some insight into the spouse’s point of view, Dr. Sherman hopes to conduct a similar study from the stepchildren’s perspective.

The results were not completely stark, however, and there is hope for you and your stepdaughters. Fifteen women felt that their relationships with their stepfamilies were working. Some even framed the new reality with their husbands as a time of healing between their stepchildren and them, or between the father and his children. Relationships that were once strained between parent and child were often healed during this time of convalescence.  The adult children are able to re-establish familial ties with their parent, while building a stronger relationship with their stepparent.

So, how can you get to a place with your stepdaughters where they are willing to step in and help?

The answer is that you need to find a way to come together and find common ground. It can be done, but sometimes it takes a great deal of effort on all sides.  So, how do you reach those who are at arm’s length?

  • Build the Bridge — Call on the phone and send a personal letter. As long as the topic is focused on their father, it may be possible to gain the communication and assistance of your stepdaughters, depending on the situation. 
  • Peaceful Discussions — Moving their father to a long-term care facility is a taxing prospect and each stepdaughter may have a varying opinion. Neutral third-parties, such as Certified Geriatric Care Managers and Certified Elder Law Attorneys can be especially effective in these cases, able to field concerns and emotional outbursts, to lay out all the details and help point to the most effective solution, both emotionally and financially.  Hopefully you and your husband have already done Estate Planning so that your husband’s wishes are in place, and it’s very important to know whether you and your husband entered into a premarital contract before you got married, which is something that all people should consider when entering into a second or subsequent marriage.

An additional and equally important option for spouses experiencing these issues is to find positive emotional and practical support elsewhere: from friends, professionals, and their own loved ones. Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Dementia Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs.  We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. If you have a loved one, such as your husband, who is nearing the need for long-term care, and if you’re done with mediation, or if you’re a family everyone already gets along, please call The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C.  at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 to set up an appointment for a no-cost consultation.


What Dementia is Really Like: The Virtual Tour

Mary is a caregiver for her mother, Charlotte, who is in the early stages of dementia. She has seen her mother’s symptoms of forgetting who family members are, having difficulty communicating and remembering the right words to use, and becoming irrationally suspicious of those around her. She has witnessed her mother forgetting how to turn on the oven one day, and successfully roasting a turkey the next. Mary feels that if she could truly understand what is going on, she could be a better caregiver to her mother.

If a loved one has dementia, you may find certain symptoms frustrating, baffling, and sometimes frightening. But what is it like for a person to forget almost everything he or she ever knew? By asking experts – and people who are themselves in the early stages of dementia – we can get some idea. Here are some things that could help shed some light on dementia behavior:

• Memory loss, the essential dementia symptom, can be anxiety-provoking and frightening for those experiencing it. Whether the person is in the early stages of dementia and very aware of their problems, or in the middle stages, life can feel constantly uncomfortable because nothing is familiar anymore.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of losing our keys right after we had them in our hands. Imagine that frustration, magnified and repeated constantly throughout the day. Imagine a memory completely fading out and fading back at a later time (as in our example with Charlotte and her ability to turn on the oven and roast a turkey).

• Difficulty following conversations/loss of vocabulary: Mary Becklenberg, 62, who suffers from early dementia, describes how words drop out of her vocabulary, although she often covers it up well.  “Sometimes, it really is easier to go along – to laugh and pretend that I know what a person is talking about,” says Becklenberg. “I guess you could say I’m doing it to save face.” As the dementia progresses, and these symptoms worsen, there often comes a point where those with dementia have difficulty articulating even basic needs.  Often times, the best a caregiver can do in these situations is guess.

• Wandering: When a person has dementia, even the house he or she lived in for decades might suddenly become unfamiliar. Confused, he or she may wander to get out and search for a place that is recognizable and feels safe. “Sometimes people who wander from their homes say that they’re trying to go home,” says Beth Kallmyer, MSW, director of client services for the national office of the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago.” It confuses caregivers, but the person might mean a different home – maybe the home he or she grew up in.” If you have a loved one with dementia who wanders, please read our article on new technology that can prevent you from losing your loved one.

In addition to the symptoms above, people with dementia often feel bored and depressed, experiencing a sense of loss and anxiety, knowing that they have an incurable, degenerative disease. They also may feel fear, anger, and at times, aggression, since even their closest family members seem like strangers to them. They may also feel paranoid at times, thinking completely irrational thoughts, such as someone stealing their wallet. Read more about dementia symptoms on the Alzheimer’s Association website.

Now that you have heard first hand from an expert and someone who has dementia, how can you truly walk in their shoes. The Virtual Dementia Tour® (VDT®) is an interactive learning experience designed to help those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias to identify with and better understand some of the challenging behaviors someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias might demonstrate.

By walking in their shoes, albeit briefly, we can develop a sense of how we might feel and what might make us more comfortable if we were the ones with dementia.  

Created by P.K. Beville, a specialist in geriatrics, this valuable, easy to follow experiential kit is designed to instill hope in professional and family caregivers, providing them with a tool to move from sympathy to empathy and better understand the behaviors and needs of their loved ones and patients. The VDT® has been used by 500,000 people worldwide, 25 universities, and 16 medical schools to stimulate dementia.

The VDT® can be taken by individuals, in a group, or in a community setting. From start to finish the tour can be completed in less than 30 minutes.

If taken in a community setting, this is what someone would experience:

• Prior to starting the tour, test administrators temporarily alter the participants’ physical, sensory and cognitive abilities with props and circumstances to simulate changes associated with aging and dementia.

• Participants are then given instructions to complete 5 simple tasks during their 10 minute tour while their behavior and responses are observed.

• After experiencing the tour, participants are encouraged to share their reactions to and their feelings about the tour during a debrief session.

• Finally, participants are given reference materials and ideas on what we can do to create a better environment for those we care for who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

Find out more about the Virtual Dementia Tour®.

Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Dementia Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs.  We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one, such as your mother-in-law, who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

Create a Tribute for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

An estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease. This includes an estimated 5 million people age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals younger than age 65.

When Alzheimer’s disease touches someone close to you, it’s natural to want to honor or remember the person in a special way. Now, you can create an online Tribute page to celebrate your loved one with Alzheimer’s, while showing your support for the fight against the disease. A Tribute is a special Web page that enables you to share the story of a loved one with family and friends.

How can you set up a tribute?

  1. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website and click on “Create Your Tribute.”
  2. Write a personal story, share memories, add a picture, create photo albums and ask others to do the same. 
  3. E-mail family, friends and co-workers about your Tribute.
  4. You will have access to update your page, send e-mails and check the progress of your Tribute.   
  5. You can even find others pages using a search function on the site.

Note: You can also create a Tribute as a personal fundraising page too.

People create tribute pages to be used for birthdays, anniversaries, and even memorial services, to honor a friend or family member living with the disease or someone who has lost their battle.

At the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. (http://www.virginiaelderlaw.com), our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors and individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

VA Expanding Benefits for Traumatic Brain Injury

Nearly 300,000 Veterans have been found to have brain injuries since 2000, according to the Department of Defense.  If you are a Veteran living with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who also has Parkinson’s, dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures, or certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, you now have an easier path to receive additional disability pay under new regulations developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The new regulations, printed in the Federal Register, say that if certain Veterans with service-connected TBI also have one of the five illnesses described above, then the second illness will also be considered as service-connected for the calculation of VA disability compensation.

Eligibility for expanded benefits will depend upon the severity of the TBI and the time between the injury causing the TBI and the onset of the second illness.  However, Veterans can still file a claim to establish direct service-connection for these ailments even if they do not meet the time and severity standards in the new regulation.

 “Any veteran who believes they may be affected by this new regulation should contact their local National Service Office as soon as possible,” said National Service Director Jim Marszalek. Veterans who have questions or who wish to file new disability claims may also use the eBenefits website, available at www.eBenefits.va.gov/ebenefits. Information about VA and DoD programs for brain injury and related research is available at www.dvbic.org.

Please also read our recent blog post for additional changes that are being made to VA benefits that affect Veterans who are in need of medically-related assistance with activities of daily living.

Evan H. Farr is an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs who understands the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both benefit programs (please note that Mr. Farr does not work with clients seeking service-connected compensation).  Mr. Farr works with clients to obtain the financial assistance to which they are entitled and enables veterans and their spouses afford the type of long-term care that they need, whether home care, adult day care, assisted living care, or nursing home care.

If you are a Veteran or spouse of a Veteran who served 90 days active duty, and at least one day during a period of wartime, and you need physical assistance with your activities of daily living, be sure to make an appointment ASAP for a no-cost consultation at the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C.  We can work with you to evaluate if you qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit and/or Medicaid (or if we can get you qualified) and we will handle the filing of all the tedious and technical paperwork. Call us at our Fairfax Virginia Elder Law office at 703-691-1888 or at our Fredericksburg Virginia Elder Law office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment today.

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