Protecting Your Digital Assets

Don’t Forget to Include Your Digital Assets In Your Estate Plan

If you’ve created an estate plan with us or anyone, it likely includes traditional wealth and assets like finances, real estate, personal property, and family heirlooms. But unless your plan also includes your digital assets, there’s a good chance this online property will be lost forever following your death or incapacity.

What’s more, even if these assets are included in your plan, unless your executor and/or trustee knows the accounts exist and how to access them, you risk burdening your family and friends with the often lengthy and expensive process of locating and accessing them. And depending on the terms of service governing your online accounts, your heirs may not be able to inherit some types of digital assets at all.

With our lives increasingly being lived online, our digital assets can be quite extensive and extremely valuable. Given this, it’s more important than ever that your estate plan includes detailed provisions to protect and pass on such property in the event of your incapacity or death.

Types of digital assets

Digital assets generally fall into two categories: those with financial value and those with sentimental value.

Those with financial value typically include cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, online payment accounts like PayPal, domain names, websites and blogs generating revenue, as well as other works like photos, videos, music, and writing that generate royalties. Such assets have real financial worth for your heirs, not only in the immediate aftermath of your death or incapacity, but potentially for years to come.

Digital assets with sentimental value include email accounts, photos, video, music, publications, social media accounts, apps, and websites or blogs with no revenue potential. While this type of property typically won’t be of any monetary value, it can offer incredible sentimental value and comfort for your family when you’re no longer around.

Owned vs licensed

Though you might not know it, you don’t actually own many of your digital assets at all. For example, you do own certain assets like cryptocurrency and PayPal accounts, so you can transfer ownership of these in a will or trust. But when you purchase some digital property, such as Kindle e-books and iTunes music files, all you really own is a license to use it. And in many cases, that license is for your personal use only and is non-transferable.

Whether or not you can transfer such licensed property depends almost entirely on the account’s Terms of Service Agreements (TOSA) to which you agreed (or more likely, simply clicked a box without reading) upon opening the account. While many TOSA restrict access to accounts only to the original user, some allow access by heirs or executors in certain situations, while others say nothing about transferability.

Carefully review the TOSA of your online accounts to see whether you own the asset itself or just a license to use it. If the TOSA states the asset is licensed, not owned, and offers no method for transferring your license, you’ll likely have no way to pass the asset to anyone else, even if it’s included in your estate plan.

To make matters more complicated, though your heirs may be able to access your digital assets if you’ve provided them with your account login and passwords, doing so may actually violate the TOSA and/or privacy laws. In order to legally access such accounts, your heirs will have to prove they have the right to access it, a process which up until recently was a major legal grey area. Fortunately, a growing number of states are adopting a law that helps clarify how your digital assets can be accessed in the event if your death or incapacity.

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which has been adopted in most states so far, including North Carolina (NCGS Section 36.F) lays out guidelines under which fiduciaries, such as executors and trustees, can access these digital accounts. The Act allows you to grant a fiduciary access to your digital accounts upon your death or incapacity, either by opting them in with an online tool furnished by the service provider or through your estate plan.

The Act offers three-tiers for prioritizing access. The first tier gives priority to the online provider’s access-authorization tool for handling accounts of a decedent. For example, Google’s “inactive account manager” tool lets you choose who can access and manage your account after you pass away. Facebook has a similar tool that allows you to designate someone as a “legacy contact” to manage your personal profile. If an online tool is not available or if the decedent did not use it, the law’s second tier gives priority to directions given by the decedent in a will, trust, power of attorney, or other means. If no such instructions are provided, then the third tier stipulates the provider’s TOSA will govern access.

As long as you use the provider’s online tool – if one is available – and/or include instructions in your estate plan, your digital assets should be accessible per your wishes in states that have adopted the law. It is likely that all 50 states will adopt this law so even if the law isn’t on the books in a state in which you later reside, you should include these provisions in all documents when planning.

Your Estate plan and related documents

When you work with us, we incorporate these provisions in your wills(s), trusts(s), and financial powers of attorney as part of your plan. Be sure that you contact us as you Personal Family Lawyer® if you have any questions about your online property or how to include it in your estate plan.

Today, estate planning encompasses not just tangible property like finances and real estate, but also digital assets like cryptocurrency, blogs, and social media.

With so much of our lives now lived online, it’s vital you put the proper estate planning provisions in place to ensure your digital assets are effectively protected and passed on in the event of your incapacity or death. However, because many types of online assets have only been in existence for a handful of years, there are very few laws governing how they should be dealt with through estate planning. And due to their virtual and often anonymous nature, just locating and accessing some of these assets can be extremely difficult for those you leave behind.

Best practices for including digital assets in your estate plan

If you’re like most people, you probably own numerous digital assets, some of which likely have significant monetary and/or sentimental value. Other types of online property may have no value for anyone other than yourself or be something you’d prefer your family and friends not access or inherit. To ensure all of your digital assets are accounted for, managed, and passed on in exactly the way you want, you should take the following steps:

1. Create an inventory:

Start by creating a list of all your digital assets, including the related login information and passwords. Password management apps such as LastPass can help simplify this effort. From there, store the list in a secure location, and provide detailed instructions to your fiduciary about how to access it and get into the accounts. Just like money you’ve hidden in a safe, if no one knows where it is or how to unlock it, these assets will likely be lost forever.

2. Back up assets stored in the cloud:

If any of your digital assets are stored in the cloud, back them up to a computer and/or other physical storage device on a regular basis, so fiduciaries and family members can access them with fewer obstacles. That said, don’t forget to also include the location and login info of these cloud-based assets in case you don’t have a chance—or forget—to back them all up.

3. Add your digital assets to your estate plan:

Include specific instructions in your will, trust, and/or other estate planning documents about the heir(s) you want to inherit each asset, along with how you’d like the accounts managed in the future, if that’s an option. Some assets might be of no value to your family or be something you don’t want them to access, so you should specify that those accounts and files be closed and/or deleted by your fiduciary.

Do NOT provide the specific account info, logins, or passwords in your estate planning documents, which can be easily read by others. This is especially true for wills, which become public record upon your death. Keep this information stored in a secure place, and let your fiduciary know how to find and use it.

As you may know from working with me, I love technology! And, even for probate and directions to your heirs, there is technology to assist! Consider a service such as Directive Communication Systems to support you here. It’s also a good idea to include terms in your estate plan allowing your fiduciary to hire an IT consultant if necessary. This will help him or her manage and troubleshoot any technical challenges that come up, particularly with highly complex and/or encrypted assets.

4. Limit access:

In your plan, you should also include instructions for your fiduciary about what level of access you want him or her to have. For example, do you want your executor to be able to read all of your emails and social media posts before deleting them or passing them on to your heirs? If there are any assets you want to limit access to, we can help you include the necessary terms in your plan to ensure your privacy is honored.

5. Include relevant hardware:

Don’t forget that your estate plan should also include provisions for any physical devices—smartphones, computers, tablets, flash drives—on which the digital assets are stored. I use the Ledger Nano S for my currency.  Having quick access to this equipment will make it much easier for your fiduciary to access, manage, and transfer the online assets.

6. Check service providers’ access-authorization tools:

Carefully review the terms and conditions for your online accounts. Some service providers like Google, Facebook, and Instagram have tools in place that allow you to easily designate access to others in the event of your death. If such a function is offered, use it to document who you want to have access to these accounts. Just make certain the people you named to inherit your digital assets using the providers’ access-authorization tools match those you’ve named in your estate plan. If not, the provider will probably give priority access to the person named with its tool, not your estate plan.

Truly comprehensive estate planning

With technology rapidly evolving, it’s critical that your estate planning strategies evolve at the same time to adapt to this changing environment. With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you update your plan to include not only your physical wealth and property, but all of your digital assets, too.

Fixing your Credit Report (and do it for your parents, too!)

You can fix errors in your credit report AND the reports for your parents

It is easy to do, just follow a few simple steps.  When you are home for the holidays, look for evidence that your parent(s) are neglecting their finances or not paying bills.  And, check the interest rates on credit card payments.  If there are errors in their report, you will see interest rates MUCH higher than they should be.

How to Fix Errors in Your Credit Report

While some of those TV commercials for free credit-score report companies are pretty funny, having errors on your credit report is no laughing matter. Indeed, your credit score is one of the main factors determining your access to loans, credit cards, housing, and sometimes even jobs. From late payments that were actually made on time and paid debts that are still listed in collections to fake accounts opened in your name by identity thieves, there are all kinds of errors that can end up in your report.

It happened to me

One morning, I checked email to find several messages from my credit card providers that canceled or severely restricted my credit limits!

Whoa, what happened? Turns out that I was an “authorized user” (not even a co-account-holder) on a card for one of my daughters, and one company “accidentally” added her to my credit record.

Bam! Almost all my cards canceled instantly! Only USBank left my credit alone (and I still use their cards today!). It took three letters and phone calls to each credit reporting agency to get it reported and several more months to restore my credit. I canceled the cards from providers who would not fix things immediately.

Since then, my credit report is frozen by my request (you should do the same), and that has been true for my credit for over 10 years now.

When should they fix your report?

Even if the mistakes were made by the banks, lenders, and/or credit bureaus, they have no obligation to fix them—unless you report them. Given this, it’s vital to monitor your credit score regularly and take immediate action to have any errors corrected. Here, we’ll discuss a few of the most common mistakes found in credit reports and how to fix them.

Finding and fixing errors

The first step to ensure your credit report stays error-free is to obtain a copy of your report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can get your reports truly free, once a year, at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Other websites may claim to offer free reports, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that these offers are often deceptive.

You can get free access to your reports and even helpful credit monitoring services from companies like CreditKarma.com. Check each of the reports closely for errors. Some of the most common mistakes include:

  • Misspellings and other errors in your name, address, and/or Social Security number
  • Accounts that are mistakenly reported more than once
  • Loan inquiries you didn’t authorize
  • Payments inadvertently applied to the wrong account or noted as unpaid, when they were in fact paid
  • Old debts that have been paid off or should’ve been removed from your report after seven years
  • Fake accounts and debts created by identity thieves

Filing a dispute

If anything is inaccurate on your report, file a dispute with the credit bureaus as soon as possible. In fact, notifying these agencies is a prerequisite if you eventually decide to take legal action.

Note that if a mistake appears on more than one report, you’ll need to file a dispute with each credit bureau involved. To ensure your dispute has the best chances of success, follow these steps:

  • Use the appropriate forms: Each credit bureau has different processes for filing a dispute—whether via regular mail or online—so check the particular bureau’s website for instructions and forms. You can find sample letters showing how to dispute credit reports on the FTC and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) websites.
  • Be absolutely clear: Clearly identify each disputed item in your report, state the facts explaining why the information is incorrect, and request a deletion or correction. If you’ve found multiple errors, include an itemized list of each one.
  • Provide evidence: It’s not enough to just say there’s a mistake; you should substantiate your claim with proof. Collect all documents related to the account, including account statements, letters, emails, and legal correspondence. Include copies (never originals) of this paperwork, and highlight or circle the relevant information.
  • Contact credit providers: In addition to the credit bureaus, the CFPB recommends you also contact the credit providers that supplied the incorrect information to the bureaus. Check with the particular company to learn how to file a dispute, and then send it the same documentation to them that you sent to the bureaus.

Here are the contact numbers and web sites for the three credit bureaus:

Review the results of the investigation

Credit bureaus typically get back to you within a month, but their response can take up to 45 days. The response will tell you if the disputed item was deleted, fixed, or remains the same. Disputes basically boil down to whether or not the creditor agrees with your claim or not, and what they say typically goes.

If you’re not happy with the result of the dispute or how the dispute was handled, you can file a complaint with the CFPB, which regulates the credit bureaus. They’ll forward your complaint to the credit provider and update you on the response they receive.

If the credit provider insists the information is accurate, you can provide the bureaus with a statement summarizing your dispute and request they include it in your file, in future reports, and to anyone who received a copy of the old report in the recent past.

Legal action

Finally, if the investigation isn’t resolved to your satisfaction and the inaccurate information in your credit report is causing you harm, contact us to determine if taking legal action would be worthwhile. We can review the information, and if necessary, help you find the right attorney to develop and litigate your case.

Reporting and fixing might not be all there is to do

If you have too many debts, stop the bleeding. Once you deal with any errors on your credit report, it’s time to ensure you’re not still spending more than you can afford each month. Why is this so important? It’s because are only three simple things to do to fix your credit:

  • Pay all of your bills on time
  • Pay down debt (especially credit card debt)
  • Avoid applying for credit

But before you can do these things, you need to make sure you’re not spending more than you earn—you need a budget. Consult your financial planner for help!

Take action today

It may take a long time for your credit score to improve. I was lucky that it took only a few months to fix an error. If you plan on buying a new home, or taking on any other big debt, it’s well worth the time. Read more

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help get your credit in top shape by guiding you to put the proper legal, insurance, financial, and tax systems in place to secure your family’s financial future.

Contact us today to get started.

919-883-2800

Don’t Transfer Ownership of Your House to Your Kids Before You Read This

With the cost of long-term care (LTC) skyrocketing, you may be concerned about your (or your elderly parents’) ability to pay for lengthy stays in assisted living and/or a nursing home. Such care can be massively expensive, with the potential to overwhelm even the well-off.

Because neither traditional health insurance nor Medicare will pay for LTC, some people are looking to Medicaid to help cover this cost. To become eligible for Medicaid, however, you must first exhaust nearly every penny of your savings.

Given this, you may have heard that if you transfer your house to your adult children, you can avoid selling the home if you need to qualify for Medicaid. You may think transferring ownership of the house will help your eligibility for benefits and that this strategy is easier and less expensive than handling your home (and other assets) through estate planning.

However, transferring your home to the kids is a big mistake on several levels.

It can not only delay—or even disqualify—your Medicaid eligibility, it can also lead to numerous other problems.

Medicaid Changes
In February 2006, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), which included a number of provisions aimed at reducing Medicaid abuse. One of these was a five-year “look-back” period for eligibility.

This means that before you can qualify for Medicaid, your finances will be reviewed for any “uncompensated transfers” of your assets within the five years preceding your application. If such transfers are discovered, it can result in a penalty period that will delay your eligibility.

For every $6,810 worth of uncompensated transfers made within this five-year window (the current North Carolina monthly divisor), your Medicaid benefits will be withheld for one month.  But, any transfers made beyond that five-year period will not be penalized.

So, if you transfer your house to your children and then need LTC within five years, it may significantly delay your qualification for Medicaid benefits—and possibly prevent you from ever qualifying. Rather than taking such a risk, consult with us to discuss safer and more efficient options to help cover the rising cost of LTC such as long-term care insurance.

A potentially huge tax burden

Another drawback to transferring ownership of your home is the potential tax liability for your child. If you’re elderly, you’ve probably owned your house for a long time, and its value has dramatically increased, leading you to believe that by transferring your home to your child, he or she can make a windfall by selling it.   Read more if you want to know about selling the home after qualifying for Medicaid.

Unfortunately, if you do that, she or he will have to pay capital gains tax on the difference between your home’s value when you purchased it and your home’s selling price at the time it’s sold by your child. Depending on the home’s value, these taxes can be astronomical.

In contrast, by transferring your home at the time of your death, your child will receive what’s known as a “step-up in basis.” It’s one of the only benefits of death, and it allows your child to pay capital gains taxes when he or she sells your home, based only on the difference between the value of the home at the time of inheritance and its sales price, rather than paying taxes based on the home’s value at the time you bought it.

We can help you choose the most advantageous estate-planning strategy to minimize your beneficiaries’ tax liability and ensure they get the most out of their inheritance.

Debt, Divorce, Disability, and Death

There are numerous other reasons why transferring ownership of your house to your child is a bad idea. If your child has significant debts, his or her creditors can make claims against the property to recoup what they’re owed, potentially forcing your child to sell the home to pay those debts.

Divorce is another problematic issue. If your child goes through a divorce while the house is in his or her name, the home may be considered marital property. Depending on the outcome of the divorce, this may force your child to sell the home or pay his or her ex a share of its value.

The disability or death of your child can also lead to trouble. If your child becomes disabled and seeks Medicaid or other government benefits, having the home in his or her name could compromise eligibility, just like it would your own. And if your child dies before you and has ownership of the house, the property could be considered part of your child’s estate and be passed on to your child’s heirs, creating a problem for you.

No substitute for proper estate planning
Given these potential problems, transferring ownership of your home to your children as a means of “poor-man’s estate planning” is almost never a good idea. Instead, with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you find better ways to qualify for Medicaid and other benefits to offset the hefty price tag of long-term care and also keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity or when you die.

We offer an array of estate planning strategies to protect all of your assets, while also enabling you to better afford whatever long-term healthcare services you might require.

Contact us today to learn more.

Call 919-883-2800, or schedule an appointment.

Tax benefits of owning a second home?

Buying a second home can provide you with a place to relax, unwind, and escape from it all. It can also provide you with substantial savings if you take advantage of these tax benefits of buying a second home.

Mortgage Interest

Mortgage interest paid on up to $1.1 million in debt on your first and second homes is usually deductible. Typically, this rule only applies if you treat your second home as a home and not a rental property. But some mortgage interest may still be deductible if you occasionally rent out your second home. To benefit from this deduction under current tax law (it changes), you must use the property for 14 days or more than 10% of the number of days you rent it out a year, whichever is longer.

Tax-Free Profit

You can take up to $500,000 in profit from the sale of a home tax-free if it is your primary residence and you meet the two-year ownership and use requirement. Typically, you do not get the same tax benefit from the sale of a second home. But people have taken advantage of this rule by converting their second home to their primary residence before the sale, thus reaping the tax-free profit.

But in 2009, Congress added a few more restrictions to limit the amount of tax-free profit you can take from a second home. Now, a portion of the profit from the sale of a second home is taxable. The portion is determined by the ratio of the amount of time after 2008 you treated the residence as a second home or rental property and the amount of time you owned it.

Buying a second home can offer many benefits. But to maximize the value of your investment, work with a lawyer to make sure you are not overlooking any potential legal, insurance, financial, or tax problems or opportunities. You must meet other requirements—such as living in the home for two years before you sell it—to take advantage of some of these tax benefits.

A Personal Family Lawyer® can help you ensure you meet the requirements, so you can reap all the benefits of owning a second home.

Contact us today!

Call at 919-883-2800 or schedule an appointment.

They know what I want…

A recent article from Northwestern Mutual says otherwise.

An astonishing 69% of people have not planned and NEVER ASKED the people they expect to provide care for them … those family members who will provide care for loved ones don’t know what is coming!

If they do not know what you want, or that you want THEM to be a part of the decisions, things WILL NOT GO AS YOU HOPE!

Don’t keep your wishes a secret!

Have the conversation with your loved ones about how you want to be treated, and how you want to be cared for as you age.  “Hoping” is not a plan.  “Thinking” about doing something is not a plan.

Take steps today to PLAN.  What should you set up first?

Money Matters

You should have Financial Powers of Attorney planned, completed, and recorded with your county (yes, I know, recording isn’t required anymore … do it anyway).  These powers allow someone to help make decisions for you when you cannot.  For example, paying your bills, making sure your living accommodations are taken care of, and keeping current with taxes.

Does it matter?

You bet!  I had a client a couple of years ago who stopped her auto-withdrawal from the bank for her mortgage.  She suffered from dementia and didn’t trust the bank and thought they were stealing from her.

Guess what?   You probably know … her house was foreclosed on, and she died alone in a nursing home.

What about Medical decisions?

Same thing … you need a Medical Power of Attorney to be sure that someone can make medical decisions when you cannot.  For example, if you have a stroke and need care, what are your planned wishes for care?  No one will know if you can’t speak for yourself.  Proper Medical Documents allow us to help you put your thoughts into writing, so you can speak through your agent.

Don’t delay!  Life can change in an instant!

Do you drive a car?  Then, you are at risk of an accident every minute!
Do you walk around your house or apartment?  Then, you can trip and fall!

I have clients for whom both have happened, with tragic results.

Come see us!

Make the plans.  Powers of Attorney, and Wills and/or trusts.  Then, have the conversation with your family!

We can help with all your needs, including protecting your children!!

Call today!  919-883-2800

Or, schedule a session with us.

Don’t wait!

No, I’m not kidding, do not wait another minute!  Call 919-883-2800 right now.

All trusts are the same, right?

I get this question from some of my estate planning prospects … “All trusts are the same, right?

Is it true?

Nope, not even close!

What kind of estate planning does your family need?  Do you know if you really need a trust?
If you do, does your attorney understand how to make one that fits YOU?

There are many forms of trusts, and not all are created equal.  Trusts are used for many purposes and serve different functions.  They must be tailored to the unique situations that you and your family find themselves in. It is a huge benefit to work with an attorney who understands trusts.

Estate Planning Tailored to your family … Isn’t that what you’d expect?

Today, I got this request over a local listserv…

Dear List-
Would anyone be willing to share a Revocable Family Trust agreement with me?
I am drafting a trust for a husband and wife ….

I really am just hoping not to start from scratch.

Hmmm … do you really want this from your estate planning attorney?

It seems from this request that he (or she) is about to embark on building a trust for the client … but he might never have completed a trust before.  What he or she creates will be a reflection of some “model” or “go by” document that might have NOTHING to do with the reality of the client’s needs.  The attorney is certainly very skilled in his field, but apparently new to trusts.

Don’t make a mistake with your family, their future, and your money …

Be choosy … pick an attorney who will work to understand YOU and YOUR FAMILY.
Personally.  Individually.  And competently.

When you work with a Personal Family Lawyer, you get all that, and more.

Call us at 919-883-2800 to find out why we are different from most other attorneys.

Or click this link to find out more.

Do you have young children?

Then you also need to discover kids protection planning.
Don’t let poor planning cause a disaster for your kids!

Call us today!  919-883-2800

Or, schedule a phone call to discuss your needs and find out how to get a Life Pathways Planning Meeting for free (valued at $750). Click this link for more and to schedule your phone call.

Or, just book the LifePathways Planning Meeting your self right now!

When is it time to stop driving?

When is it time to stop driving or take the keys away?

At some time you will feel concern or even fear that your parents should no longer drive an automobile. AgingCare.com points out that in a recent year, over 14 million Americans were involved in accidents with elderly drivers. But is age the only issue in deciding if it is time to stop driving? Or, is it the risk of accidents?

Of course, it isn’t really just either of those!

If that were true, then, statistically, young adults should not drive! When driving, you are in control of a 4000-lb machine that can easily hurt you or someone else. And, we see people, young and old, who concern us while driving.

Physical and mental condition and abilities are probably the key area to consider. Even the airlines ask if you are “capable” of doing the things it takes to sit in the exit row. Why not ask this of other tasks, including driving?

What are some of the areas of concern?

  • Vision: Can the driver see well enough to drive? Can they see signs? Can they judge distances? Can they see at night? Can they physically see over the dashboard? Personally, as my cataracts get worse, I have less light entering my eyes. This will eventually reduce my focus ability and night vision. It isn’t a demonstrable problem yet, but I “keep an eye on it”.
  • Hearing: The driver must be able to hear sirens or RR-Crossing warnings.
  • Strength: Can the driver manage the vehicle? Turning the car at a slow speed can require a lot of arm strength. Have you ever tried to drive with your arm in pain? Or hit the brakes if your leg is weak from an injury? It is hard! And, risky.
  • Medications: Is the driver on any medications that could affect speed of thought? Or one that would make them sleepy? Both situations can spell disaster. Medications and their interactions can have serious effects.

Is there anything specific to dementia?

For the topic at hand, Alzheimer’s and dementia, there might be unique issues that cause changes to the abilities that can affect driving.

  • Forgetfulness can be an important consideration. Not just about destinations, or how to return home. That happens, of course. But, look for confusion about stop signs, forgetting to use blinkers, or making that left turn into the retirement home without regard for oncoming traffic (one of my clients had two car-totaling accidents this way before his license was revoked).
  • Judgments: When an emergency happens, can the driver make decisions fast enough to avoid an accident? Sometimes, that ability to judge what is coming up avoids the emergency in the first place. Alzheimer’s and other dementias can rob a person of the ability to process information fast enough to drive.  To compensate, some drivers with slow reactions may turn too late, stomp on the brakes after they pass their destination, or just drive slowly.

How can you evaluate the driving?

Ride with them. Watch how they drive. Observe without comments, but record what you see for later reference. Some of the warning signs showing that the ability to drive safely is beginning to decline include:

  • Difficulty changing lanes.
  • Suddenly drifting into other lanes.
  • Problems judging distance when braking.
  • Forgetting to use turn signals.

Check the vehicle. Look for dents on the car, especially at the corners. Ask about the missing mirror. Check the sides of the garage door for damage.

Again, a personal note … seeing how my mother-in-law drove even years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s appeared should have alerted us to impending problems. She had dents and dings on all four corners of the car and had some trouble being attentive to traffic. I didn’t want to ride with her anymore! We didn’t stop her from driving for a few more years, and fortunately, nothing serious happened.

How to actually take the keys, if you must…

Have a plan. If you take the keys, says the Huff Post website, you should be able to provide an alternative. You can drive, you can sign the driver up with a local transportation option, such as Durham Access, or even teach the driver how to use Uber.  But, don’t leave them with no options.

Have a conversation. This is a shared decision, and your loved ones should be a part of the process. Elizabeth Dugan, author of the book, “The Driving Dilemma: The Complete Resource Guide for Older Drivers and Their Families,” suggests that you ask them what to do and share your concerns (“I don’t want to lose you in an accident”). Use open-ended questions and focus on what you are worried about, not what they should do.

Involve a trusted third party. Leverage a doctor or therapist (or the DMV) for help.

Be creative. For some drivers, simply “losing the keys” is enough. We disconnected the battery, and the car just would not start.

What if your loved one still refuses to stop driving?

Here are two ideas from dailycaring.com to force the issue:

Contact the DMV. There is a form on the website (ncdot.gov) that allows you to report the driver and ask for a driving evalutaion. Failure to pass would limit their driving.

Use forgetfulness to your advantage. When mother-in-law’s car would not start, it wasn’t long before she stopped wanting to drive and accepted rides and help from others. If she asked, we simply suggested that the car could not be fixed. Similarly, you can lose the keys or even disable the car entirely (like we did with the battery cable).

Also, Protect your own car and keys. Some people will take another car in the household to drive. So, protect that car too by controlling your own keys.

If there is really a problem, don’t feel guilty. You are doing what is necessary.

What if you do take the keys?

If you feel that it is time for them to hand over the keys, recognize that you may run into resistance. Taking the car keys removes the parent’s independence, the ability to drive to the market or to meet friends for coffee, to church and the senior center, the library or to visit friends. The experience can be traumatic.

But, be aware that taking away the keys can mean an earlier move to assisted living.  Is that affordable or even a good idea?  Be prepared to step in with meaningful assistance during this transition.

Summary

The bottom line is that this is a hard conversation and will require patience and planning.

If you need help, check out the articles referenced on this blog or contact a geriatric professional care manager.

What is Sundowning?

What is Sundowning?

And, what should I do about it?

The term “sundowning” refers to a state of confusion that often occurs in the late afternoon and may continue into the evening or night. Sundowning can cause or exaggerate some of the common behaviors associated with dementia. This could include confusion, anxiety, aggression, or ignoring directions. Your loved one might become demanding or suspicious. Sundowning can also lead to pacing or wandering.

Sundowning isn’t a disease, but a group of symptoms that occur at a specific time of the day that may affect people with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

What causes Sundowning?

The exact cause of this behavior is unknown. It might be related to light levels as the day wears on, or it might be related to fatigue if the person has been up and active for a while. They could even pick up on Caregiver fatigue!

There is speculation that the “internal clock” we all have is broken for people with dementia, so the day (and people around them) want them “awake” when their body tells them to “sleep”. Imagine how you would feel all mixed up, time-wise.

A more interesting theory to consider is that activity associated with later afternoon (shift changes, grandkids coming home from school, the dog needing a walk) may create a frustrating anxiety. The person with dementia might “remember” that they have to check on the dog, or pick up kids, or wrap up the day at work, even though this is not the current reality. Then, not being able to do it, or understand why they cannot, is frustrating and leads to behavior issues. That can include the need to “check in at home” which can lead to wandering behaviors.

Can it be prevented? How do we manage it?

The easiest approach to sundowning may be to change the stimuli of the environment. For example, keep lights brighter during the afternoon to “hold off” the shadows of evening. Close the blinds in the afternoon to avoid the changing light. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests the use of brighter lights during the evening.

You can also help the person get more or better sleep. Sometimes this might include little changes to medication or new patterns; talk to your doctor. You can arrange the bigger meal to be lunch rather than dinner/supper.

Schedule outside trips for times during the early part of the day. Go outside for a walk mid-day and limit mid-day naps, if possible. Avoid too much new activity during the time when the person with dementia seems to get agitated. Reduce noise and activity in the evening. Some people note that the TV is too distracting and suggest quiet music instead. Music can work wonders for some people with Alzheimer’s.

Care for the caregiver

Caregivers are stressed too. Take time to recover, sleep well, and relax as much as you can. Get respite help when necessary. There is no shame in asking for help and/or taking time for yourself.

For more information or help, contact a professional care manager, a home care agency, or an attorney familiar with these sorts of issues. Here is a more extensive case-study article.

Why does dementia matter to business?

Dementia creates a huge cost for US business.

This comes in the form of a gradual decline in productivity, early retirements, workers leaving to care for their loved ones, and eventually insurance costs for care.  It is a national problem that needs resolution.

Dementia is various things, but one easy descriptionis that it is a progressive diminishing of the brain’s cognitive functions.  That means that practically, if you have dementia, you will gradually lose the ability to make complex judgments or certain kinds of decisions.  You might lose the ability to manage your money, or drive the car.

These changes are gradual, and usually fairly slowly developing.  So, you might have episodes for years that are frustrating but not a problem.  Then, sometimes as a surprise, you can’t function like you used to.

Why does that matter?

If you are a younger worker, you might lose productivity or efficiency.  If you are an older worker, you might need accomodations.  Or, you might need to retire sooner than you had hoped.  This can affect you, your co-workers, your company, and even the community.  We are not talking about the cost of care … that is further down the timeline.  But, studies show that in 2010 distracted workers cost the national industry in the US alone over $650Billion a year.  That was back in 2010, according to a business journal.  Imagine what it is today, and what just a few minutes of confusion or having to repeat things can do.

Early retirements are the next factor.  Workers are retiring earlier than usual when dementia is involved.  And it isn’t just here in the US… it is a global issue.  In the UK, “Early retirement of those diagnosed with dementia is estimated to cost businesses a further £627m a year” (see this article)

Finally, workers often leave to care for their loved ones.  This can reduce the workforce and coast companies in terms of retraining, disruptions, and overall corporate health costs.

How many people are affected?

A poll, “commissioned by Workplace Options in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Association, showed that nearly 70% of those who work or worked while providing care had to modify their schedules. They went in late, left early or took time off during the day.

Other findings:

  • 32% had to take a leave of absence.
  • 26% changed jobs for a less demanding role.
  • 23% had to go from working full time to part time.
  • 20% said their work performance suffered to the point of possible dismissal.
  • 24% had to give up working entirely.

Other issues that come up while being a working caretaker are physical exhaustion and psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. For some, it amounts to a second job.”  (See the article)

What can we do?

As business owners, we need to adapt the way we work to accommodate people who need to care for others.  We need to understand what our people need for their own health.  And, we need plans that appropriately and legally adjust our practices and procedures.

It is a big task, and growing every day.

You can help by getting behind initiatives to study dementia, by taking care of yourself, and working to support your co-workers and family.  Together, we can adapt while we wait for the cure.

 

Symptoms of Dementia

Symptoms of Dementia

In the past couple of emails, I noted that the dementia is progressive. That means it starts without symptoms, and then gradually the symptoms increase. Eventually, they interfere with daily life.

So, what should you look for?

Early signs of forgetfulness is often a key. This is sometimes described as forgetting why I went into a room, or where I left my keys. Of course, such things do not mean you have dementia, but they are possible symptoms. Forgetting directions to a common destination can also happen.

For others, poor decisions might be more apparent first. This can show up as a “lack of filter” in comments. I’ve heard seniors say amazing things they would never have said before the onset of dementia, and you probably have too. Another common example of poor decisions involves financial concerns. For example, a client lost multiple $100,000+ “investments” because he could no longer gauge the risk associated with the choices he was making.

Dementia in the general sense is different from the case of Alzheimer’s in the specific. Here is a list of Alzheimer’s symptoms you can read if you want more information.

What if I see a change?

People with memory loss or other possible signs of Alzheimer’s may find it hard to recognize they have a problem. Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends than it is to the person. Anyone experiencing dementia-like symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible. If you see these kinds of changes in yourself or a loved one, don’t panic. It does not mean that dementia is starting! But, it is a good idea to check things out for yourself, and pay attention.

Keep an eye on changes, and consider planning ahead. You should look into legal documents, and be certain that IF there is a significant change in capacity, the family will be able to adapt and assist.

Help is available

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, you are not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association is the trusted resource for reliable information, education, referral and support to millions of people affected by the disease.

Call the 24/7 Helpline: 800.272.3900
Locate a chapter in your community
Use the Virtual Library

You are gaining knowledge by reading about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, so use that knowledge to help your loved ones or yourself.

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