“Who are you?” Mrs. Q asked? “I am your attorney, Lenore Davis,” I replied. I had been her attorney for 20 years. She was a genteel 75 year old woman, with a fascinating story as a Holocaust survivor. Every few years she would come to me to update her estate plan. She would update me about her family, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is this continuum that makes being an estate attorney so very gratifying. Helping multi generations plan their estate.
I was warned “that mother was slipping,” but until she asked me who I was, I did not know the extent of her disability.
“Hello Ms. Davis, nice to meet you, I am here to sign my will.” I removed her will from her file, and we reviewed it carefully and slowly, paragraph by paragraph. At the end of the will, she said that the will was fine. I gave her a pen, and asked her to sign the will. She said “Ms. Davis, I cant sign a will if I have not reviewed it.” I paused. I was at a loss to understand what was happening, for we had just a moment ago completed reviewing the will.
We started from the beginning, and we went paragraph by paragraph reviewing the will again. At the end she said it was fine. I gave her a pen to sign the will and she said “Ms. Davis, I cant sign a will if I have not reviewed it.” Hayvanti/I understood.
I replied, “Mrs. Q, this is a very complicated will, why don’t you take it home with you and review it at your leisure. When you have reviewed it, and it is satisfactory to you, then you’ll come back to my office and sign it.” She thanked me for my time, she looked me in the eyes as if she really saw me. She told me she would review her will, and I knew and understood that this will would never be signed.
Just this week, I went to the Assisted Living Center in Manhattan where I met my client who has Alzheimers. They told me he forgot how to walk and talk. During my time with him, he tried rising to his feet several times, but they were by now too weak for him to use. I told him it was nice meeting you, and he replied, thank you.
He had children’s blocks in front of him. He would mostly move them around, but from time to time he had clarity and was able to fit the blocks together. I looked him in the eyes and told him that I was there to represent his interests in his wife’s estate. It meant nothing to him, but he looked at me so very intently, I wondered what he understood, what he was thinking, what he would like to say to me. I had only just met him, but my thoughts raced on.
I have interacted with stroke patients, coma patients, disabled clients. Neurology research is only now touching on how cognition is affected by different parts of the brain. There is always so much going on in my mind, there is always so much thought I want to convey, but we don’t know the extent of cognition in Alzheimer’s patients. There are have been coma patients and stroke patients who tell us that their cognition and understanding were normal, but that they could not correspond or communicate, and how frustrating it is to have thoughts that cannot be conveyed.
Patients recover from strokes and some from comas and so we know what they suffer being unable to communicate. But I don’t know of a situation where someone has recovered from Alzheimers to be able to discuss what that state is.
I am the guardian of these incapacitated people. I am to be their mouths, to stand up for what they want. I wish so often they could tell me what they want, but they cant. So I learn about them, who they are, what they would have wanted, and I represent their interests.
What I see in their eyes are their Neshamas, their souls. What differentiates man from other beings, is his ability to talk, to reason, to share insights with others. When my clients are robbed of their ability to communicate, I struggle to understand them in other ways. No easy task.
It is important to ensure when planning an estate that a person with Alzheimers is properly considered. If he is on government assistance, then special provisions have to be inserted in a will so that he does not get money outright, or he will lose his government assistance. Provisions have to be in place for a guardian to take over his care in the event his wife dies. It is important to consult with an attorney.
Lenore has been practicing Trust and estate/elder for 25 years. She has her LLM masters in Taxation, and has offices in New York and New Jersey. You can contact her via telephone at (516)569-4671 or by email at Ldavis@lenoredavis.com.