The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that about 400,000 people in the U.S. are living with this debilitating disease, and there are about 200 more people diagnosed every week.
Multiple Sclerosis is a degenerative condition with more questions than answers, and one question involves gender. It is unknown why, according to the MS Society, women are more than three times as likely as men to develop the condition or why that gender difference has been increasing for more than five decades.
What is known is that within 15 years of being diagnosed with MS, about 20 percent of its victims are bedridden or institutionalized.
There is no evidence that MS is inherited, but if you have a parent fighting this devastating condition, you might be fearful that you will be next – or your children. There is no magic bullet in this fight, but there is one way to protect you and your family: planning. A special-needs-law attorney can help you craft a strategy for managing assets and health care, a strategy that can factor in risks such as MS.
The Stages of Multiple Sclerosis
The MS Society describes this disease as a chronic, incurable condition in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms include blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis, and blindness. Symptoms can come and go or persist and worsen. The diagnosis usually comes between the ages of 20 and 50, though people as young as 2 and as old as 75 have developed it.
The society recognizes four variations of the disease:
Clinically isolated syndrome presents itself as an episode of MS symptoms lasting at least 24 hours. People who experience this don’t always advance to full-blown MS.
Relapsing-remitting MS is the most common diagnosis and is characterized by incidents of new or increasing neurologic symptoms. The onslaught of symptoms is followed by partial or complete periods of recovery, or remission. The condition typically evolves and worsens.
Primary progressive MS displays a gradual progression but “can be further characterized at different points in time as either active (with an occasional relapse and/or evidence of new MRI activity) or not active.” About 15 percent of diagnoses are for PPMS.
Secondary progressive MS initially includes relapses and remissions, and most cases at first are diagnosed as RRMS. It can have active and inactive stages, and people with this diagnosis can expect “a progressive worsening of neurologic function (accumulation of disability) over time.”
According to the National Center for Biotechnology, “MS rarely is fatal and shortens lives by months, not years. Quality of life and disability are the top concerns.”
If you, a child, a parent, or someone else you love has been diagnosed with MS, an attorney familiar with the condition can help you address those quality-of-life and disability concerns.
How a Special-Needs-Law Attorney Can Help
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys advises that a good lawyer can help people with multiple sclerosis and their families know what to expect as the disease progresses. An attorney can help arrange long-term care tailored to your needs and guide legal decisions regarding income, assets, and quality-of-life preferences. The goal is to give you the tools you will need to protect finances and preserve independence.
NAELA cites four areas where a special-needs-law attorney can help a person with MS:
Autonomy and independence: A lawyer can assess the individual’s financial and medical circumstances and help the client plan for the progression of the disease. The focus here is on enabling the client to manage his or her own affairs for as long as possible.
Self-care and quality of life: A lawyer can help a client set expectations for care and quality of life. A lawyer familiar with MS knows how the disease affects people and what physical needs will arise as it progresses. Questions to be addressed are:
- Who is available to help you with day-to-day activities, and to what degree (and for how long) can they be expected to meet your needs? What can be done to help them help you? If no family caregivers are available, what services do you want provided and by whom?
- Who will be your health care surrogate or surrogates when you need help making decisions about care?
- Is your home suitable for someone in your condition? Will it still meet your needs as the disease progresses and your mobility becomes limited? Where do you want to be cared for if the disease progresses to the point that your current home no longer meets your needs?
Property management: A lawyer can help you use available legal tools to prepare for the possibility that you will become physically or mentally unable to make and execute decisions about your assets and property. Trusts and durable financial powers of attorney are examples of tools available to empower people you want to rely on to oversee your affairs and finances, tools that don’t undermine your authority to make those decisions while still able.
Paying for care: If you have the assets to cover significant medical expenses over a long period, a lawyer can help you set up mechanisms to see to it that the expenses are covered in a cost-effective fashion. If you expect the disease to deplete your assets, there are steps that can be taken to position you for that eventuality.
- Long-term-care insurance is available, and it is something an estate planning attorney might recommend, but it is unlikely you could get a policy after being diagnosed with MS.
- Public benefits such as Medicaid may be available. However, you can’t apply for Medicaid until you are in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home, and you will not qualify if your income and/or assets top capped amounts. An attorney can help you manage your assets and income in a way that legally drops your bottom line over time and allows you to qualify for assistance.
- Those who don’t qualify for public benefits such as Medicaid can still make use of community day programs or services such as Meals on Wheels that can help supplement your care. Special-needs-law attorneys know what is out there and how to access it.
Chiumento Selis Dwyer Provides Legal Help with MS Planning
The Palm Coast law firm of Chiumento Selis Dwyer has been serving families in Flagler and Volusia counties for more than four decades, and that includes people living with multiple sclerosis. Our family-oriented attorneys come to the table with empathy and valuable experience in easing the legal and financial stresses the disease inflicts.
Contact us today to discuss how we can prepare you and your family for a long battle with MS or any other debilitating disease.