Taking over when a parent or other loved one succumbs to Alzheimer's is a financial challenge, even for a certified public accountant who is accustomed to managing other people's money, says William Cummings, president of Cummings Financial Organization in Tampa.
Two years ago, Cummings' father had a stroke and subsequently suffered from pneumonia. During his recovery, it became clear that he was unable to manage his own retirement planning to the point where the power company turned off service because he had failed to pay the bills. Cummings and his three siblings stepped in to manage the situation. "When your loved one has Alzheimer's, everybody has it," Cummings says.
The two sisters and two brothers divvied up the responsibilities, with Cummings, the CPA, taking over the financial duties, learning everything he could about what it takes to manage the financial affairs of an incompetent older person.
Cummings divides the caregiving challenge into four categories and recommends getting specialized advice about each.
Find housing and caregivers. The Cummings family found it initially hard to come to grips with the extent of their father's decline. They put him in a retirement home that wasn't equipped to cope with the amount of care he needed. As a result, a few months later they had to move him again. Cummings recommends that families pay for a thorough health evaluation before getting further assistance with choosing a facility to minimize the upheaval and the cost.
Pay the bills. The job entails unearthing every source of income, savings and potential benefits for which a patient might qualify. Cummings estimates the cost of Alzheimer's care in his part of the country to average $7,000 a month. "Assets dwindle quickly" at that price, he says. Fortunately, his father was a veteran and Cummings was able to qualify him to receive Aid and Attendance, a long-term care benefit available to some veterans. The qualifying process took nine months, but when the money came, it was retroactive, which helped. Cummings believes that his father, whose overall physical health is good, could live as long as another decade, so he has created elaborate financial projections to figure out how much money will be required and where it will come from. He recommends that a caregiver who isn't a financial expert get professional help to assess resources and figure out how to best manage them.
Manage the legal aspects. A knowledgeable elder-care attorney can make a huge difference in how long the money lasts, particularly when it comes to taxes, Cummings says. "Good tax-planning can make a six-figure difference." Picking an attorney with a different specialty just because he's cheaper is no bargain, he warns.
Cope with the emotional aspects. Dealing with an ailing parent is stressful, Cummings says. He participates in an informal group that gets together for lunch and commiseration, but many people need more formal counseling. "It is essential that you remember to take the time to maintain your own health and well-being. You cannot help others if you do not help yourself."