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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Glen Campbell family feud: dementia divides many clans

There are few things as stressful and heartbreaking as seeing a parent struggling with dementia, while the family falls apart around them. Unfortunately, when dementia strikes someone, the repercussions for the person's spouse, children, and other family members are far-reaching.

Recently NBC News ran an article that featured former singer Glen Campbell's story along with the stories of several other families. They are all examples of how a family falls into fighting while trying to deal with the person's medical care, housing, and finances. Something I like about this article is that it shows that this doesn't just happen in families where someone is abusing the person with dementia. It also happens when well-meaning family members simply do not agree on what to do, or how things should be done.

I recommend that all parents of adult children read the NBC News article by clicking here.

It's possible to reduce the chances of disputes and to mitigate the damage by having strong, up-to-date, thorough paperwork in place to document your wishes. I'm not just talking about having a will. I'm talking about preparing for what might happen if you should be stricken by dementia. A surprising number of people have said to me that they believe this is taken care of by their will because the will appoints an executor. This is just plain wrong. The will does nothing at all and has no legal effect until you have died. It doesn't authorize anyone to look after things while you're still alive.

You must put two planning documents in place to deal with the possibility of dementia. One is an Enduring Power of Attorney (also called a Power of Attorney for Property, or Continuing Power of Attorney) and the other is a health care directive (also called Power of Attorney for Personal Care, Personal Directive, Advance Directive, or Health Care Proxy).

The Enduring Power of Attorney will allow someone to deal with your finances. Be careful here. Don't just sign a boilerplate document. Think carefully about the person to whom you're giving control over everything you own. You are handing them an immense amount of power over your assets. Think about whether that person is 100% reliable, honest, and above temptation. Think about family dynamics. Find a lawyer who knows how to tailor your document to your specific situation.

Some specific situations that should be addressed in an Enduring Power of Attorney but that are not found in simple boilerplate documents are:
- any plans for your property that are set out in the will (you don't want your POA to sell something you're planning to give away under the will).
- what to do about any adult person in your life (other than your spouse) who is receiving a financial benefit of any kind from you, including payment of their college tuition, or living at your house rent-free.
- what to do about charitable donations you make on a regular basis.
- whether your cottage or lake property should be sold if you're not able to use it any more.
- whether the person acting under your POA should be giving financial reports to anyone on a regular basis while they're looking after your money.
- whether you'd want your personal and household items to be distributed if you went to live in a long-term care facility and were not expected ever to live in your home again.

Having these documents in place and talking to your family about them will go a long way towards preventing a permanent split between family members.

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