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The Importance of a Letter of Competency

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In my estimation, there are no other diseases which can tear a family apart faster than Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases.

The reason for this may be due to the need of extensive and lengthy care necessary to keep your loved one safe. When he or she reaches the moderate stage of dementia and beyond, which in some circumstances may come faster than we hoped, they honestly should not be left alone.

The number one complaint I hear is, “I’m the only one in the family who’s doing anything to help.” More often than not this is an accurate statement. Everything is falling upon “Mary’s” shoulders. What the rest of the family is missing is that Mary is falling apart.

It is very difficult to describe to the general public the hardships and stress caregivers truly endure.

There’s a 24-hour-a-day, inescapable weight of self-doubt which follows caregivers wherever they go. “Am I doing enough?” “Am I doing it right?” At the same time caregivers are experiencing this mental anguish, they’re doing everything possible not to lose their patience with the loved one they are caring for.

Unfortunately, very few of the rarely seen kinfolks realize this. What usually makes matter worse is their interference in the late stage of the disease adds even more confusion and anxiety to the caregiver who has been there 24/7 for possibly many years. Statements are made such as, “How did she end up on hospice?” “How did it get to this point?” It makes you want to scream, “Well maybe if you’ve been here the last few years, you’d know these answers.”

Sadly, this is where lawyers usually appear on the scene.  One of the most common arguments brought to the table is, “I don’t believe they were competent at the time they made you Power of Attorney.” Often these are the same people that, from a distance, thought everything was going just fine.

Here’s a very important piece of advice for you. Right before Power of Attorney, last will in testament or any other legal binding contracts are being created, have your loved one’s doctor write a letter stating your loved one is competent at that time. This is known as a “letter of competency.” Have your elder law attorney keep this document in their files. In fact, it is recommended to have two doctors write a letter.

The last thing a caregiver needs when come to the end of this exhausting campaign is to end up in court with his or her own family.

Deplorably, having these arguments in court happens every day everywhere. I have seen this disease tear families so far apart that they never mend. Keeping all your legal and financial matters protected may prevent these difficult situations from happening to you. A letter of competency may be the most powerful document in your file cabinet.

Gary Joseph LeBlanc

Education Director

Dementia Spotlight Foundation