A Team Approach to Elder Care
“If I had to do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing,” says Mary Quigley in reference to the unique journey she took caring for her mother and brother over the past several years. While her brother Charlie passed away almost two years ago, her journey of navigating a complex maze of legal and financial matters is not quite over.
A family of caregivers
Mary’s mom, Mary Giron, was a dedicated caregiver to Charlie. Charlie was disabled, and had always lived together with his mother in New Jersey. “No one could care for Charlie better than she could,” says Mary. “Mom rarely asked for help, but when she did, I knew that she really needed it.”
Although Mary had a flexible work schedule as a practice administrator for a dentist, she was also raising four children. Helping care for her mother and Charlie from a distance was tremendously difficult. With Mary’s only other sibling, Peter, living in France, the family decided that it was best for Mary’s mother and Charlie to relocate closer to Mary’s home in Northern Virginia. With the closer proximity and the help of a caregiver, Mary was able to develop a system in which she and her children could visit regularly and provide transportation and support as needed.
Changes in health, finding in home care
Mary and Peter were eventually forced to wrestle with the decision of placing their mother in a nursing home. “It was difficult to find a nursing home to accept her due to her complex needs,” says Mary.
At one point, she brought her mother home to receive care with the support of a home care nursing agency, which lasted only one day as her needs were too great. Her mother’s condition continued to deteriorate and, after several hospital admissions, her mother passed away in April 2007.
Getting help from Elder Law Attorneys
As their mother’s health had been declining, Mary and Peter realized that they would need to take a more active role in her care and in their brother Charlie’s care. However, neither their mom nor Charlie had any incapacity documents in place that would authorize another person to make health care or financial decisions for them.
They proceeded to enlist the help of Elder Law Attorney Margaret O’Reilly with the Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Cossa, Gray and O’Reilly, to determine whether incapacity documents could be executed for their mother or for Charlie. Unfortunately their mother’s health continued to slip so dramatically that she passed away before any documents could be executed.
Although her mother had a will, it had been drawn up in New Jersey in the 70s. After consulting with Elder Law Attorney Elizabeth Gray, also at the Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Cossa, Gray and O’Reilly, the family learned that, because of differing requirements between New Jersey and Virginia, the will could not be admitted to probate in Virginia since the witnesses could no longer be located.
“It is important to look at a will every three to five years or when there are life changes in the family such as births, deaths or divorce,” says Elizabeth. The mother’s estate would need to be handled through the Virginia laws of inheritance that apply when a person dies without executing a will.
The siblings also realized that they had no idea what or where their mom’s assets and financial accounts were. They sorted through their mother’s papers, and sat down with their elder law attorneys to determine how to proceed. Working together with an accountant and a financial planner, the attorneys at Fairfax Elder Law organized the accounts that needed to go through probate and managed the remaining accounts for distribution and tax reporting.
Mary and Peter also learned that their mother had never pursued any action to have Charlie found disabled, nor had she secured benefits for him or been appointed his guardian. Margaret says, “They simply lived together as mother and son. She took care of him and never had any difficulties doing that.”
It was clear to everyone that Mary and Peter were not going to have the same ease in talking to doctors and managing finances for Charlie. Since Charlie did not have sufficient capacity to sign incapacity documents, it was necessary to go to court for appointment of a guardian and conservator for him. With Margaret’s assistance, Mary and Peter were able to have themselves appointed as co-guardians and co-conservators for Charlie, with the authority to make decisions for his care and well-being.
Mary proceeded to make some modifications to her townhouse that would provide a safer and more accessible environment for Charlie. Elizabeth then helped the siblings arrange a consultation with a geriatric care manager to learn about the options for managing Charlie’s care and ultimately maximizing his quality of life. The care manager was able to suggest a plan of care as well as ways to help Charlie continue his interest in music.
Things seemed to settle down, and Mary recounts how happy she was to have everyone together for the holidays that year.
A few days after Christmas, Mary walked downstairs one morning to find Charlie laying half off the bed and she immediately called 911. At the hospital, it was determined that Charlie had a stroke and, in spite of efforts at rehabilitation, Charlie never regained his speech and mobility. Mary continued to visit him daily at the hospital. “It was tough, because I knew he wanted to talk to me but he couldn’t verbalize anything,” she says.
Attorney Elizabeth Gray again stepped in to help Mary hire a geriatric care manager who found a homecare provider and hospice service for Charlie so that he could go home with Mary after he was discharged from the hospital. “She was tremendous; she gave me guidance, and that’s what I needed,” says Mary. “I needed to know that when I couldn’t be there, someone could be, especially for Charlie because he couldn’t speak.”
Peter and his wife also flew in from France to assist in taking care of Charlie. “We were all there; we were singing his favorite songs and talking about the good days,” says Mary. Charlie died soon after returning home, surrounded by his family and his music. “Charlie was the strongest person I ever met in my entire life,” says Mary. “He needed me and I know if the tables were turned, he would have done the same thing.”
Mourning the loss of her mother and brother was complicated by the many details required to administer both estates. “I was overwhelmed. There was so much going on with the estate for my mom and no organization, I just couldn’t do it,” says Mary. “I just threw everything I could find in a box and passed it to Liz. Once I gave it all to her and they took over, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Having Liz is great.”
With the support of her family and the expertise and guidance of the Fairfax Elder Law team, Mary is now able to say with a smile, “I see a light at the end of the tunnel.”