Jane Glenn Haas
McClatchy Tribune Newspapers
September 22, 2009
Some people have no relatives. Some, in their 90s, have outlived friends and even children. And some are just alone by choice.
Diana Meinhold is conservator for a longtime friend who has Alzheimer's disease. She visits her about twice a month, manages her money, checks on her care. Eventually, she may make life decisions for the woman.
Although she is entitled to payment for her time and travel, "I don't take any money. I just want her money to be there for her."
Meinhold, a Costa Mesa, Calif., resident, also travels a lot as part of her job as Southwest Region Community Ambassador for Dakim Brain Fitness.
Her work, and her own need to have a surgery a few years ago, prompted her to find another person who will step in - if necessary - for her friend with Alzheimer's.
"I feel very strongly that everyone needs to express their opinion about what health care they want and how they want their money spent," she says.
"You must take care of yourself first."
So Meinhold, single and childless, has asked her sisters to do the same for her.
"It's a peace of mind thing," she says. "I have filled out the forms about who's in charge and who makes my life decisions and I pass them out to all the doctors I see, even the dentist.
"I also have a will. You know, this vase goes to so-and-so, and so on."
But not everyone has sisters.
Will Brodak, Irvine, Calif. -based estate-planning and elder law specialist, suggests his clients try to find someone who shares similar values.
"I first suggest if they belong to a church or synagogue that they speak to the priest or rabbi who might have someone to recommend, someone able to handle the task," he says.
Q. And if there is no connection to a religious institution or if that inquiry fails?
A. If no one is available, then I direct the client to the Professional Fiduciary Association of California. They have the ability to be appointed and handle conservator duties. The professional fiduciary group (www.pfac-pro.org) has work sheets to help you go through your laundry list of desires, end-of-life decisions and so on. It is very important for your agent to know what your wishes are on these matters.
Q. Everyone - the person who is the caregiver and the person being cared for - everyone needs to express those wishes?
A. Yes, everyone should have filled out an advance health care directive and a general durable power of attorney for finance. If you don't have these forms filled out, you become a ward of the state and the California court system will step in and appoint a conservator. This person may not be someone you want. And the system is so backed up, it can take some time.
Q. What if your family says not to worry, they will take care of everything?
A. I'm working on a case now where a "close family" said they would handle everything themselves. The mother now has Alzheimer's and cannot sign her name. Yet her name is the only one on the deed of residence. Because no one in the family has the power of attorney, they will need to go to court and have a conservator appointed to eventually sell the house, for example. It's very costly.
Q. But if I do it first, what's the cost through an elder law specialist such as yourself.?
A. It can be as low as $250 to make sure advance health care and durable power forms and other paperwork is properly filled out and as much as $2,000 for a full-blown estate plan.