Dear Len & Rosie,
Both my parents are in their 70s. My father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
My parents are immigrants and have achieved a bit of the American dream. They own a nice house, some land and some stock.
I am wondering how to help my mother protect herself as well as help my father during these painful years.
What should be our first steps?
Many people don’t consider estate planning until it’s absolutely necessary. There’s a fair chance that your parents don’t even have wills.
They need estate planning now. It’s difficult to tell you what your parents ought to do, given that we know little of their situation. But we can discuss some of the options available to them.
At the very least, your parents should sign Durable General Powers of Attorney, while your father is still able to make decisions.
This way, he can appoint someone, probably your mother, as his agent to make important legal and financial decisions when he eventually loses the capacity to manage things on his own.
Your parents should also have Advance Health Care Directives for medical decisions as well. Given your father’s diagnosis, your mother should probably name one of the children as her primary agent instead of her husband.
If your parents have under $120,900, not counting their home, retirement accounts, one automobile, and certain other exempt assets, then your father is already eligible for Medi-Cal nursing home benefits if the worst comes to pass.
If your parents have more then that, they should consult with an elder law attorney to help them qualify for Medi-Cal.
It is best to do this sooner rather than later when the future need for long-term care is more likely than not.
One of the problems with our health care system is that public financed health care in your own home is very limited. Medicare doesn’t pay for custodial care.
Your parents could qualify for In Home Supportive Services (IHSS), which would provide some money to help pay for care givers, but IHSS requires that your parents have only $3,000 in non-exempt assets, instead of $120,990.
The difficult challenge your family will have to face is that, for the most part, providing for your father’s care in his own home will come out of your parents’ life savings.
We should note, however, that the Veterans Administration Aid & Attendance program may provide some assistance to your father, provided that he, or your mother, was U.S. military veteran with wartime service.
Your family should consult with an attorney. There are many other factors to consider.
If your father eventually were to receive Medi-Cal benefits, then it is important to avoid probate so your family will not have to reimburse the Department of Health Care Services after your father’s death.
The important thing for you to understand is that your family should plan for the future now, while your father is still able to make his own decisions.
Len & Rosie