An estate attorney recently noted that when it comes to judging capacity, many compromised folks are very good at hiding their downward trajectory.
Little jokes, annoyed denials, push back, turning the tables, and graceful changes in conversation are all part of the repertoire.
Also, being forgetful, or other symptoms people want to associate with aging, are just not a good or reliable indication of losing capacity.
Too many people are overly distracted, multi-tasking, lack proper sleep, are medicated, or eat poorly. The results of all of this can seem like something more serious, but those symptoms don’t get to the serious issue of loss of capacity.
Experts say these are some signs to look out for:
- memory loss
- difficulty concentrating
- finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks
- struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
- being confused about time and place
- mood changes.
The only problem is that in this Covid era, the list seems to describe everyone under lockdown!
There are stories of people losing capacity who start by exhibiting poor hygiene, and, in addition, have dressing and clothing issues.
But the one indicator of capacity issues to look for is slipping financial hygiene. Are the bills being paid promptly and correctly? Are payments being sent to the right address?
If you see newly emerging difficulty with numbers and/or handling of money, like frustration getting correct change while shopping, this is a huge, waving, red flag.
Sometimes a person can assert that the financial issue is “a matter of perspective” or may say, “that’s your opinion,” or that the issue is just an unprovable accusation. But the beauty of bills and numbers is that they are important, undeniable, and adjudicated by a third party. No one can claim that the issue is “just your opinion.”
Bills and finances are important, and no one can deny that they were ignored because “they don’t matter,” or deny that something is not right. It’s there in black and white.
We have an acquaintance who just found out his father’s home was up for tax sale at a forced auction in a few days for unpaid taxes! How could this happen? Now, the father has money, assets, and income, and was always scrupulous throughout his life about finances and being in control. So what happened? He is intelligent, physically active, still running a business, but almost ninety years old with diabetes, and losing capacity.
He still has a rich life, but what he doesn’t have is the capacity to handle his finances any more.
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual story.
If you have doubts about a loved one’s capacity, take the time to poke around or ask about the status of their finances, offer to help with bills. You could even check public tax records to verify their home is up-to-date in their taxes.
How do they handle things now? Are the utility bills current? If you see a change from what was normal, it is not smoke, but a small fire that needs to be acted on before it rages out of control.
With estate planning and basically all things involved with the legal and financial aspects of a person’s life, once a person loses capacity everything changes and becomes ten times harder, stressful, and more expensive.
Get those documents in order beforehand. It is so important!
It is much better to know the reality of a situation and deal with the messy underbrush now, to prevent a wildfire, than to have to deal with the damage and danger after things get completely out of control.