Apps to Make Dementia Care Easier.

Smartphones and tablets have become integral parts of everyday life. There seems to be an app for everything. Not surprising, there are many smartphone and tablet apps to help dementia sufferers and their care givers address the many dementia-related challenges faced on a daily basis. Loretta Woodward Veney, a motivational speaker and author, whose mother has dementia, shares some of her favorite care giving and dementia apps available today and how they may help, at www.healthcentral.com.  There are apps to help schedule and organize appointments and care, apps to help share events, coordinate activities, and communicate with members of a care giving team, even activity apps to engage dementia sufferers.

You may follow the link here to read the article.

What “Cause” is “Good Cause” to Remove a Conservator?

A “conservator” is a person appointed by a probate court to manage the assets or affairs of another (the “protected individual”) who, by reason of physical or mental disability, is incapable of controlling or managing their assets or affairs on their own. The conservator acts as a “fiduciary,” meaning that the conservator must manage the assets and affairs of the protected individual always and solely for the benefit of the protected individual.  Decisions the conservator may make regarding the protected individual’s assets or affairs must be made solely in the best interest of the protected individual; the conservator must subordinate their own wishes or preferences in their decision making.

In Michigan, a conservator may be removed for “good cause.” The Michigan statute addressing the removal of a conservator does not define the term “good cause.”  A recent case decided by the Michigan Court of Appeals addresses the issue of what is “good cause” to remove a conservator .

In 2013, Marian was appointed conservator for her mother, Mary, who was 86 years old and had begun to exhibit symptoms of dementia. Mary had eight children at the time the conservatorship was established. In 2015, one of Marian’s siblings, Rita, filed a petition to remove Marian as Mary’s conservator based upon Marian’s conduct managing Mary’s assets and affairs.

After a lengthy hearing, the local probate court found that Mary continued to require a conservator, but despite their good intentions, neither Marian, nor any of her siblings was suitable to act as Mary’s conservator. The probate court found that based upon the deep emotional connection between Mary and Marian, Marian was not capable of acting in Mary’s best interest and separating Marian’s wants from Mary’s needs. In addition, based upon the ongoing conflict among Mary’s children, the best interest of Mary required the appointment of a public administrator as Mary’s conservator.

On appeal, Marian argued that the probate court should not have removed her as conservator because she had not mismanaged Mary’s assets or affairs, or failed to perform any duty required of her as Mary’s conservator. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the probate court’s decision, saying that the statutory “good cause” standard for removal does not require any particular misconduct. “‘Good cause simply means a satisfactory, sound or valid reason’” for removal. The court stated that, due to Marian’s inability to remove her emotions and personal wishes form decisions pertaining to Mary’s assets and affair, she was incapable of making decisions solely in Mary’s best interest and was reason enough to warrant her removal.

Every conservatorship is different, but the duty of every conservator is the same: To act in the best interest of the protected individual. The typical person appointed as conservator for another is usually a close family member — a spouse, child, or grandchild. In such cases it is often extremely difficult to separate one’s emotions from the decision-making process. In addition, siblings or other close family members may have their own ideas what should be done with respect to the protected individual’s assets and affairs. Family in-fighting is a common occurrence and can justify a probate court to look outside the family for a suitable person to act as conservator.

As we saw with Marian, her conduct was not malicious, nor had she mismanaged Mary’s assets or affairs. She broke no laws. But when a conservator’s decisions, like Marian’s, are colored by emotion or personal desire, or may be affected by family in-fighting, those decisions may not be in the protected individual’s best interest, warranting their removal.

The case is In re Conservatorship of Mary Louise Montgomery. You can read the entire opinion here.

Are you struggling with managing the assets or affairs of another as their conservator? Give me a call, I can help.

Estate Planning For The Here and Now

Estate planning clients tend to focus on the “when I die” issues when tending to their estate planning. However, if all you have done is sign a will and trust to order your affairs and distribute your property after you die, your estate plan is seriously deficient. Death is a certainty, but incapacity at some point during your lifetime is highly probable. And failing to plan to maintain continuity and management of your medical care and financial affairs during a period of incapacity can have disastrous consequences.

You must include tools in your estate plan to allow others to handle your personal and financial affairs during times when you cannot do so yourself. If you don’t, a court will be required to appoint a guardian to handle decisions concerning your person, and a conservator to manage your assets. This can be a time-consuming, expensive, and burdensome proposition.

So, what should you include in your estate plan to protect you during a period of incapacity? At a minimum, a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and a HIPAA medical authorization. Let’s look at each:

Durable power of attorney. Under a durable power of attorney, you appoint an agent to handle your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. Everything from banking and bill paying to preparing and filing tax returns on your behalf can be handled by your agent. Your agent will be able to access bank accounts, make sure your bills are paid, and keep your affairs in order until you regain the ability to do so. A durable power of attorney can be designed to take effect the moment you sign it, or at some point in the future if and when you become incapacitated.

Medical Durable Power of Attorney. Commonly referred to as a “patient advocate designation,” Michigan law allows you to appoint someone (your “patient advocate”) to make medical treatment decisions for you in the event you cannot make them for yourself. Your patient advocate can access medical records, talk to your doctors and make treatment decisions for you as long as you can’t make them for yourself. It may contain expressions of your desires concerning medical treatment at the point where your condition is such that there is no longer any prospect of a recovery, such as at the end-stage of a terminal illness. These instructions will ensure that you live your last days in dignity and peace.

HIPAA medical authorization. With a HIPAA authorization, you designate a person with whom medical providers can share your medical information and discuss your medical care. Even with a valid health care power of attorney, a medical provider may refuse to release your medical information to another person. They may refer to privacy restrictions contained in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Doctors, hospitals, and other medical facilities fear the legal repercussions of unauthorized disclosures of one’s medical information. So without written authorization from you, they may not speak with family members, even a spouse or a child, or release medical information to them.

Don’t neglect the here and now in your estate plan. Adding a durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and a HIPAA authorization to your existing estate plan will give you protection during your lifetime when you are most vulnerable.