Working With a Legal Professional Can Help the Elder Care Planning Process
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
There is perhaps no worse feeling in the world than that of being overwhelmed. Often when it comes to elder care planning and financial preparation, people don’t know where to begin, who to turn to for help, or what to ask.
“Honestly, aging is a journey and sometimes that journey is not fun,” says Carol Applegate, an attorney with Applegate & Dillman Elder Law, which offers life care planning – a service many firms don’t provide.
Applegate is empathetic to her clients’ plight because she knows how difficult it can be. That’s why she and her team of professionals provide necessary information to help families make these tough decisions, and offer moral support as well.
“We are with you from when you come to the office until the end of life,” Applegate says. “We know you as a family, as a person.”
Prior to becoming an attorney, Applegate was a psychiatric nurse. Her background helps her understand both the medical elements and emotions tied to making difficult decisions.
“I build my staff with people who have that same compassion for the elderly population, and who really understand more than just the financial and the legal implications,” Applegate says. “We are that support system for them because it’s a lonely journey.”
Applegate recently worked with a family that included a wife with terminal cancer and a husband suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.
“We found him a facility to make the transition easier for all of them, but that’s tough,” Applegate says. “It’s one thing to adjust to leaving your home and going to a facility, but knowing your wife is back home dying of cancer – that’s so hard.”
Family dynamics can be tricky, particularly when all parties don’t see eye-to-eye on the issues at hand. Conflict and high-strung emotions can take center stage among siblings, or between parents and children. Fear is a factor too, not only for parents but also for the grown children as they determine how to pragmatically care for their parents’ growing list of needs.
Applegate often fields calls that go like this: “Dad just had a stroke, and mom’s got dementia and can’t stay at home by herself anymore. We need to get them into a facility, but they have no money. What are we going to do?”
Medicare and Medicaid can be extremely complicated and rule-driven, leaving folks to throw up their hands in frustration. Applegate and her team help their clients through these processes, taking it a step at a time and prioritizing needs. Applegate asks her clients what worries them the most – what keeps them up at night. She addresses that worry first.
“I’ve had people say, ‘What will I do with my cat if I go into a nursing home?’” Applegate says. “Until that issue is resolved, they are not going to listen to anything else I have to say. These conversations provide peace of mind.”
The most common missteps Applegate sees families make involve misinformation.
“People will tell me, ‘My neighbor said I can give my house to my kids,’” Applegate says. “Well, the neighbor may have said that, but he’s wrong.”
Rules also change over time, and the way someone handled a financial situation in the past may no longer be relevant. Sometimes clients insist on filling out a Medicaid application themselves, but if they fill the application out incorrectly, they might lose a precious two or three months of Medicaid help.
“We can get approved faster,” says Applegate, who encourages individuals and families to take legal advice only from professionals.
Given the psychological pain that has accompanied the pandemic for many, Applegate is bracing for a mental health crisis in the coming months, as both families and nursing home clients are struggling. Throughout the next several months, Applegate’s team has scheduled a number of Zoom meetings that center around holidays and seasons. For instance, in December they made Christmas ornaments. In January they will cover journaling. February will involve candy recipes. In the spring they’ll focus on gardening and planting flowers, as well as a woodworking class for men that will highlight how to make a birdhouse.
“We’re trying to offer things beyond the legal and financial, because that goes to the emotional part of this process,” Applegate says. “This is important because people need to have some contact for emotional well-being and stability.”
For additional information on Applegate & Dillman Elder Law, visit dillmanlawgroup.com.