By Ben Neiburger, Founder, Generation Law

When we marry, we promise to love each other in sickness and in health without really thinking too much about what the “in sickness” part could mean down the road. At Generation Law, we see often see how love is put to the test in later years, when age and illness create heavy emotional and financial burdens. Nowhere is this clearer than when someone you love has Alzheimer’s disease.

Several years ago, our client Mike came to us for help in caring for his beloved wife Laura, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. By that time, Laura had begun hallucinating, constantly imagining she saw her deceased mother and grandmother on every street corner. She woke Mike several times a night with her imaginings, and he lived in fear that, at some point, she would simply wander off. When we sat down with him, he was completely exhausted from the demands of caring for Laura and on medication to deal with the stress.  Still, he couldn’t bring himself to accept that Laura needed to go to a nursing home.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is an incredible act of love, but knowing when it’s best to share that care also takes love and a bit of letting go. With some encouragement, Mike came around to the fact that the best thing he could do for Laura was to become her caregiving advocate, rather than her actual caregiver. He found a good nursing home for her, one with cheerful rooms, friendly staff and fresh flowers every day. Laura was able to get the full-time care she needed, and Mike was able to see her each day and also have time for himself and other family and friends. We also found a way for Medicaid planning to help Mike cover Laura’s nursing home costs, so that he still had enough to live on.

Things went well for a while until two years later, Mike got sick, too. He was diagnosed with ALS and soon needed a caregiver of his own to help him manage at home. The one positive was that, because of the estate plan he had put in place when Laura went into the nursing home, Mike had enough income to hire a full-time caregiver so that he was able to remain in his own home. He had also made a provision in his estate plan for his children so that, if he died first, they could use the money to supplement Laura’s Medicaid coverage with anything she might need. A year after his diagnosis, Mike passed away surrounded by Laura and his family, and secure in the knowledge that his beloved wife would be well taken care of.

Caregiving is an exhausting and often overwhelming job, but the right advance planning and support can lessen the burden and help you and your loved ones live better under difficult circumstances.

For more caregiving tips and details on estate planning strategies like those that helped Mike and Laura, check out my book, “Brighter Skies: Your Common Sense Guide for Navigating Elder Care.”