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Many of the questions boil down to: “Where will I go?”  “What will it cost?” “Will I go broke paying for my care?”  And, most importantly, “Who will monitor my care?”

Life Care Planning, Estate Protection, Disability,
VA & Medicaid Assistance Lawyers

WHEN I CAN NO LONGER TAKE CARE OF MYSELF

            As an elder care attorney, clients often ask what will happen when they begin to tread on the path that leads to the end of life's journey . . . when they are still very much alive but are no longer able to take care of themselves in an appropriate manner.  Many of the questions boil down to: "Where will I go?"  "What will it cost?" "Will I go broke paying for my care?"  And, most importantly, "Who will monitor my care?"

            From personal as well as professional experience, I have come to appreciate the fact that one faces these long-term care questions only once or, perhaps, a few other times in his or her lifetime.  Thus, the long-term care journey is a mystery, or, if you will, an Alice-in-Wonderland tumble through a maze.  With many years of experience, I have learned that unless one has walked through the long-term care maze many times, the loved one we wish to provide for will not be able to get the very best out of the system.

            Stated otherwise, the quest for answers to these long-term care questions is like a journey through a South American rain forest.  Most people have never been to the Amazon.  Those who try to traverse the Amazonian rain forest without a guide will most likely have some very nasty surprises awaiting them.  An experienced guide, on the other hand, can make the journey less stressful .  .  .  and get you to where you want to be with fewer mishaps.

            Let me tell you about Jack, his wife Mary, and their daughter Mary Agatha, better known to her friends as Aggie.  (Not their real names.)  Their story will give you a concrete example to hold on to as we explore what may lie ahead for you or your loved one.

            Jack, who had worked more than thirty years in the southern Illinois coal industry, was diagnosed with Alzheimer' disease.  After struggling to keep Jack home for a year or two, Mary succumbed to the financial pressures and stress of caring for Jack.  Mary sold their house, and she and Jack moved into a mobile home next to the home Aggie shared with her husband and children.  The move was stressful for Jack, who repeatedly wandered back to his former home.

            As the disease progressed, Jack became home-bound.  Mary, with Aggie's help, made valiant efforts to care for Jack at home; but the assistance to keep him at home, provided through the state's Community Care Program, was limited.  Since Jack was a veteran, he also might have qualified for a VA pension (because he was "home-bound" and needed "aid and attendance"), but neither Mary nor Aggie knew about this valuable benefit until after Jack moved to a nursing home.

            Although I was quite familiar with nursing homes, having visited clients at care facilities in southern Illinois for more than twenty-five years, it was a shocking experience the day I met Jack.  I was not prepared for what I observed at Jack's nursing home.  The moment I walked through the entrance, the smell alone was enough to cause me to want to turn around and walk away.  Inside the facility, I witnessed several people slumped over in wheel chairs, some shouting unsuccessfully for help, some obviously in a drug-induced over-dosed stupor, while a few of the facility's staff lounged around the nurses' station.

            Mary and I went to Jack's room, where I saw two elderly gentlemen sleeping in their beds.  Mary went over to one, kissed his forehead, and he opened his eyes.  After a brief pause Jack broke into a wide grin.  Mary kissed him again and told him how happy she was to see him.  He was unable to speak, but grunted an acknowledgment.  Jack was unshaved and smelled bad.  I went to the nurses' station and asked for a staff person to change Jack's soiled clothing and bedding.  After Jack and his bed were cleaned up, Mary and I visited with Jack.

            The staff at the nursing home seemed nice enough, but were not tuned-in to anyone but themselves and their own banter.  Seemingly, they were oblivious to not only Jack's plight but all of the cries for help going on around them.

            Knowing from long experience that it is the staff at a facility that makes a difference in the quality of care my clients receive, not the facility itself, as soon as I got back to my office I made sure that Jack was transferred to another facility where the staff would be more responsive to Jack's needs.

            Jack's story is fairly typical.  Jack moved into a nursing home when Mary was perfectly willing to continue to care for him at home.  However, the system failed her.  No one told her about VA pension benefits that would have allowed her to pay someone to assist with Jack's care.  Moreover, the state's Community Care Program did not provide sufficient resources to help her care for Jack.  With limited financial resources and a decline in her own physical condition, what else was Mary to do?  Aggie and her siblings had their own lives and troubles.  Neither Jack nor Mary wanted to be a burden on their children.

            This is not the way it has to be.  Our long-term care system, for those who know how to navigate it, does allow people to remain out of a nursing home.  The system does allow people to access help so they can stay in their own home.  Sure there are limitations to the care a person can expect, but if President Ronald Regan can spend his last days at home, why not Jack?  Why not you and I?  That is the quest life care planning attorneys undertake every time they take on a new client.  That is a quest which can be won with the assistance of a competent guide  -  an Elder Care or Life Care Planning attorney.

            At the risk of over-simplification, a word of explanation needs to be made at this juncture: (1) estate planning attorneys are concerned with what happens to a client's assets after the client dies; (2) elder law attorneys are concerned with what happens to a client's assets both before and after the client dies; and (3) elder care or life care planning attorneys are concerned with the care the client receives, as well as to what happens to the client's assets pre- and post-death.

            In a general practice or estate planning law firm each estate planning matter generally begins and ends with planning for the client's assets after the client (and, if married, their spouse) has died.  In many (but not all) elder law firms, the attorney goes much further to address how to safeguard the family's resources so that they are not squandered on nursing home costs or grabbed by the government.  On the other hand, elder care and life care planning attorneys do not start or end where an elder law attorney would.  While keeping the government from "picking the client's pocket" is important, particularly when there is a spouse, elder care and life care planning attorneys go a great deal further to make sure that every option for the client's care, independence, dignity, and quality of life is considered.

            Richard Habiger is an elder care attorney, who focuses on Medicaid and VA benefits, Alzheimer's and life care planning.  You may contact him at 618-549-4529 or Richard@HabigerElderLaw.com.  He acknowledges the contribution to this article made by Rajiv Nagaich, the President of the Life Care Planning Law Firm Association. For more information, go to http://www.lcplfa.org.

 


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1808 Clark Street, Carterville, Illinois 62918
Phone: 618-985-4529
Toll Free: 800-336-4529

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Phone: (618) 985-4529