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Solving Only One-Half of the Problem

                Joe called me because the hospital social worker suggested it.  His wife, Mary had been in the hospital but was now ready to be discharged.  However, Joe was just now coming to the realization that Mary can’t go home.  He just is not capable of caring for her any longer.  While he is the healthy spouse of the two he is 85 and physically can’t continue to be Mary’s caregiver.

                Mary is 83.  Joe told me that in recent weeks her dementia has progressed.  She needs assistance with at least 3 of the activities of daily living.  She can’t bathe, dress or go to the bathroom on her own.  She is also having balance issues and often needs assistance walking.  The social worker suggested he look at long term care facilities.  That’s when Joe got a bit of sticker shock at the cost.  His call to us was a cry for help.

                Joe told me Mary began experiencing the signs of dementia about 3 years ago.  That’s when he said he went to an attorney to get his affairs in order.  I asked him what he understood that to mean.  Joe then explained to me that he wanted to be sure that he didn’t spend down all his and Mary’s assets on long term care.  They have 3 children and they want to insure they can pass on a legacy to his son and 2 daughters.

                I asked how his attorney addressed his concerns.  “We had our wills, powers of attorney and health care directives updated”, he said.  While he wasn’t entirely sure what his will provides for he did remember that there was a trust set up for Mary if he dies first.  He also remembered changing the beneficiary designations on his retirement accounts and insurance to his children.

                I explained that, while I would need to look over his documents to be certain, it sounded like his estate plan covers a scenario for what happens if he dies and Mary survives him and needs care.  I asked him what the attorney he met with suggested to protect his assets in the scenario he now faced.  His will and estate plan are not helpful here because he is still alive.  Joe told me that he didn’t have an answer.   “That’s why I talking to you”, he said.

                It’s a common problem.  Joe and his attorney tackled his long term care concerns by addressing the question of “what happens when I die” but not the question of “what happens if I live”.  I told Joe that he had only solved one-half of his problem.

                “So what do I do now”, Joe asked me.  Next week I’ll share with you what I told him.