September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day, a day to bring awareness and challenge the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.  Did you know that, in 2020, the Alzheimer’s Association finds that one in 10 people age 65 and older in the U.S. has Alzheimer’s dementia?  This degenerative brain disease causes memory loss, difficulty planning, and problem solving in patients.  

In the early stage, a patient may still have the ability to understand the legal consequences of his or her actions to execute a legal document.  Advanced dementia often damages the patient’s “sound mental capacity,” and, thus, the ability to make legally binding decisions in regards to matters such as finances and health.  Hence, proper estate planning can be indispensable before patients lose their legal capacity to the impacts of dementia. 

There may be a lengthy list of reasons to put an estate plan in place as soon as possible, particularly after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. For instance, without appointing a representative ahead of time, a time-consuming and expensive guardianship may become necessary to administer and manage the patient’s affairs.  This could result in a stranger being put in charge and the patient’s healthcare wishes not being honored. Additionally, lack of proper estate planning tools, such as advance health care directives, can open the door to disagreements, for example, the most well-meaning family members disagreeing with the care and decisions concerning the patient, resulting in a family feud.

A comprehensive estate plan may involve several components, including: a revocable living trust with an incapacity clause, an irrevocable living trust, a durable power of attorney, and health care documents.  The estate plan functions may include: preparation for long-term care and healthcare needs, making arrangements for finances and assets, appointment of a trusted representative to make critical medical treatment decisions for the incapacitated person, and protect loved ones. 

By making these decisions in advance, patients losing mental abilities are able to ensure their wishes may be carried out exactly how they want, even after they become incapacitated.  Having clearly defined plans also alleviates the stress and burden for loved ones already inundated with the day-to-day tasks of caring for the patient.

For those living with a positive Alzheimer’s diagnosis, as well as their loved ones, our office can help put legal protections in place to help bring a sense of peace in an otherwise uncertain future. Please feel free to reach out to us today to schedule a meeting.