For most adults, making sure their life affairs are in order is a priority. But for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the passage of time can become even more of a critical factor. Having the opportunity to express their wishes and make their own decisions is a gift that can quickly be lost.
Cognitive illnesses can rob an individual of much, including loss of control. Taking action can restore a sense of gaining back some of that power. Preparing financial and legal documents can be a monumental step for individuals to once again feel as if they are in charge of their lives.
As a progressive disease, this process should begin as soon as reasonably possible after a diagnosis. Some legal decisions can be complicated and it’s important to have enough time to work through them successfully. In addition, all documents will need to be signed while the individual is still deemed to have the legal capacity to do so.
Defining the required legal capacity
Described as having the ability to understand the consequences of one’s actions and to make rational decisions, maintaining capacity is required before signing legal papers. But not all documents necessitate the same level of legal capacity, which can complicate matters.
As time passes, disagreements may arise whether a person does indeed still have legal capacity, so it’s important not to delay in finalizing the process. A doctor can help determine if your loved one has the ability to understand decisions or if you have concerns and uncertainty.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends considering the following when addressing legal and financial issues:
1. Planning ahead is beneficial
- It allows for the individual to be involved regarding life decisions
- Individuals are able to express their wishes and know that they will be respected
- It offers the opportunity to designate someone to make decisions on their behalf
- It allows enough time to sort through complicated legal and financial issues
2. What documents and items should be included?
- Long-term care and health care plans
- Financial arrangements and plans regarding any property ownership or distribution
- Designating a person to make decisions when the individual is no longer able
- Any documents completed in the past should also be reviewed to determine if revisions or updates are needed
3. Legal advice
There are documents that can be completed without an attorney, but getting legal advice from one who specializes in elder law can be very helpful. If you have an attorney, they can refer you to someone. You can also take advantage of the resources available to locate elder law services in your community, such as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
The following are some of the issues you’ll want to discuss:
- Options for health and long-term care
- Plans for managing the individual’s personal care and property
- Understanding what’s covered by Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans benefits or other long-term care insurance
4. Documents to bring to the meeting
Gather and bring this information when meeting with the attorney:
- Complete list of assets, such as bank accounts, list of safe deposit box contents, vehicles and real estate information. Understand their current value and include names of owners, account holders and beneficiaries.
- Copies of estate planning documents, including wills, trusts and powers of attorney
- Copies of all real estate deeds
- Copies of recent income tax returns
- Life insurance policies and their cash values
- Long-term care insurance policies or benefits
- Health insurance policies or benefits
- Names of primary caregivers or family members, financial planners and accountants.
5. Choosing a power of attorney
- The choice of power of attorney is the individual’s to make, if at all possible. Discuss healthcare and treatment preferences and make sure the designated agent understands and is comfortable with the directives and will carry them out
- Ensure the power of attorney has a copy and access to the original documents
- Consider naming a successor in the event the named agent is unable or unavailable to act
- Provide copies of the power of attorney documents and signed living will to the health care providers
- If an individual doesn’t have a trusted person or family member to name, consider choosing an attorney or bank to manage the estate
For more information
After a diagnosis, it’s common for everyone involved to feel anxious, untethered and at a loss in how to begin handling all of these life changes. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a free two-part e-Learning course providing a good first step to begin putting the legal and financial plans in place. Topics covered include:
Making legal plans to fit your needs
Legal documents you’ll need and what they mean
How to find legal and financial assistance
Practical strategies for making a long-term plan of care
Tax deductions and credits
Government programs that can help pay for care
Or if you prefer, you may want to attend a live workshop. Check their Community Resource Finder to locate one near you.
Ingleside at King Farm Memory Support Assisted Living
We understand the emotions that accompany an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis and are here to help the individual, family and friends to navigate these unchartered waters. Our goal is to help all of you discover how to move forward in a way that ensures the highest quality of life achievable.
Our person-directed approach to care makes this possible for our residents and their families. We believe building relationships, supporting everyone involved and utilizing the best practices for cognitive care nurtures empowerment and becoming fully engaged.
Call (240) 455-4582 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized virtual tour today.