As a lawyer and a mom of four kids, I’ve long admired Sandra Day O’Connor. She has been a trailblazer for Americans in so many ways, especially for us women in the legal profession.
During an era when few women were in law, O'Connor graduated third in her class from Stanford Law School and went on to open her own law practice. In 1981, she became the first female justice on the United States Supreme Court.
O’ Connor’s reputation as a trailblazer was not known just in her professional life, but in her personal life as well. Did you know on top of her professional accomplishments, that she raised three sons, and ultimately left the bench to care for her husband after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease?
Indeed, Justice O’Connor has had to navigate through difficult situations and decisions on and off the bench that few of us ever will. However, through her many adversities, she is keeping a brave face in spite of it all.
This week we learned that Justice O’Connor will now trailblaze in a whole new way as she faces her own recent diagnosis of dementia. While we all wish her well, many of her fans and colleagues will now wait in dismal and curiosity to how she will navigate through this next chapter of her life.
As an elder law and estate planning attorney, I see families regularly who are facing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
Already, Justice O’Connor’s courage to publicly disclose her diagnosis has shed light on a national issue that does not always get the attention it deserves. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and over 16.1 million Americans are caring for a loved one with this illness.
Justice O’Connor’s family has also revealed her very normal reaction to receiving the news of her diagnosis. “She didn’t want to believe it” her son Jay told CBS This Morning upon first hearing the news. “Her whole life she has overcome so many obstacles, and I think she just thought she could power through,” Jay said.
Sharing her natural reaction with others is so beneficial because it helps all of us understand how common it is for a loved one to resist a difficult diagnosis that confirms the mind or body will no longer allow them to do day-to day tasks with ease. Because she chose to publicly announce her diagnosis, families all over now feel comfort that they are not alone on this emotional journey.
Justice O’Connor’s situation also shows how there is no shame in having professionals provide the day to day care for a loved one who needs daily assistance. Her son, Jay, shared that Justice O’Connor is receiving care in an assisted living facility, and is enjoying her visits from family and friends.
Many families try to provide the care themselves, only to realize that for their loved one’s own well-being, professional care is needed. Justice O’Connor’s situation shows that family and friends can still play an important role by providing emotional support, without having to provide the physical care.
One challenge that Justice O’Connor does not appear to be dealing with is a lack of financial resources to pay for care. However, many Americans simply cannot afford full-time care. In places like Orange County, California, a senior living facility with full-time care can cost over $9,000 per month.
For families who cannot afford the care their loved one needs, all hope is not lost. There are important government benefits available such as Medi-Cal and the VA Benefit that can help fund daily care if the loved one lacks the financial resources to pay for care. However, these benefits are typically reserved for people who have already depleted their entire life savings paying for care.
Thankfully there are legal strategies available that can allow someone to qualify for these important government benefits instead of being forced to bankruptcy. To avoid this, contact your California elder law attorneys to see if these strategies are available to you. We wish Justice O'Connor and her entire family well as she navigates through this next stage of her life.
If you have a loved one who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia and you want to feel confident about the path forward, we warmly invite you to contact your Newport Beach estate planning and elder law attorneys at (949) 718-0420.
Laura K. Meier