“…till death do us part” may have been part of your wedding vow but these days it might more appropriately say, “…till dementia or death do us part”.
There are 2 prevailing themes emerging in ageing – separation by dementia and substitution by dementia.
I have written previously on the subject of the effect of dementia on a couple’s relationship particularly where one cannot look after the other and one has to enter aged care – it is a form of involuntary separation. It can not only impact on their relationship but on their finances as well. Suddenly, they have to support themselves in different places – the one who stays in the home and the other one who has to enter a residential aged care facility.
There is another implication even where the couple continue to live together. They have usually appointed each other as their Enduring Power of Attorney enabling each of them to make decisions for the other if they should lose their capacity to make decisions. When one of them loses their capacity, the other starts wearing two hats – as the spouse and as the Enduring Attorney for the other spouse. In the latter role, a spouse becomes the substitute decision maker for the other spouse – they ‘stand in their shoes’.
This second ‘hat’ can create some significant legal and financial implications for a couple. This is particularly so where they have previously performed what are often seen as the traditional gender roles in the older generational division of labour – he looks after the ‘hard’ issues eg the ‘things’ and the finances and she looks after the ‘soft’ issues eg the home and the family. Where the man loses capacity, it can be a transformational experience for the woman.
If nothing else it also becomes the assumption of a legal responsibility – to ensure the husband’s affairs are managed and his obligations are complied with. Dementia is not a form of death and anyone who contracts it continues to have the usual legal and financial responsibilities before they did. It is now the wife’s task to ensure he continues to comply with them.
Being informed is the key and, dare I say it, this should mean seeking some good legal and financial advice about her new found responsibilities including in relation to such things as:
- Their tax
- Their Centrelink
- Their Insurance
- Their Superannuation
- Their Wills
Not only that, if, as is common, they have each appointed just each other as their Enduring Power of Attorney, then, as her husband has lost his capacity, he can no longer be her Enduring Power of Attorney. The wife would be well advised to do a new one.
These are just some of the layers in the cake of capacity that can confront an older person who has lost their spouse to dementia. That is distressing in itself but you can exacerbate the stress if you avoid the task of understanding where that then leaves you in terms of life and decision making.
Perhaps it’s time to relieve that additional potential stress and get informed.
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