PRIME MAGAZINE — 29 April 2016
Financial planning after a bad diagnosis

By Eric Barton

City & Shore PRIME

Marjorie Dwyer saw the signs in her husband, Bob, long before the diagnosis: He had lost his sense of direction, his concentration and control over his temper. Worst, though, was his loss of short-term memory.

After a visit to a memory clinic, the diagnosis was both expected and a shock: the onset of dementia.

There would be dramatic changes in their life together, such as the need for in-home care and the forsaking of plans they had for retirement. Also, Bob had always been in charge of the finances, and now Marjorie had to take on that responsibility.

“It was the most difficult time in my life,” Marjorie says. “When you first start out, you really don’t know what to do.”

That realization is something that happens to nearly every spouse and sometimes extended family members when there is a diagnosis of dementia. There is often no financial plan for dealing with care bills.

That’s what Jill Poser has found as director of life-care planning at Advocare, an elder-care management service in Delray Beach. She helps clients develop a plan that addresses financial needs whether the diagnosis is heart disease, cancer or dementia.

Jill Aronberg-Heller, a senior financial adviser and vice president at Merrill Lynch in Boca Raton, cautions that there is no magic answer to solving financial issues in these instances. But there are a series of steps that can help a family. It starts with setting up a power of attorney to give a family member or trust the right to make financial decisions. It’s also likely the family will need more liquidity, perhaps with a line of credit or reverse mortgage to help cover costs of care.

Aronberg-Heller says a long-term financial plan should be able to adjust to the situation.

“As a financial adviser, we’re often on the front line of this issue and see the signs before the diagnosis,” she says. “I’ve seen really sharp, successful, intelligent people who begin to fade.”

Before that starts, financial plans should be ready to react. While it’s expensive, Aronberg-Heller advises that long-term care insurance can be a great help. Those with it often get help sooner, because they’re not burdened with the financial concerns of in-home care.

That wasn’t available for Bob Dwyer, who couldn’t get long-term care insurance due to existing health concerns. Instead, Marjorie had to make adjustments to their retirement plans to make sure they had cash flow to handle the expense of in-home nurses and then, after Bob fell and broke two ribs, a hospital stay.

Bob Dwyer died in 2014 from pneumonia. He was 86. Marjorie had to decide what was next. Now 77 and living in Naples, she became active in Alzheimer’s and dementia care.

“It’s my inquisitive nature that I research everything,” Marjorie says. “It’s really nice to pass on what I’ve learned.”

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