Estate Planning for People with Dementia or Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s or dementia is an insidious disease, affecting about half of those who are 85 and older though it can manifest in those who are decades younger. Dementia comes in stages and there is no cure for this progressive condition that can significantly affect your memory and cognitive abilities, effectively incapacitating you.
Why is an Estate Plan Necessary?
For those who have severe dementia but with no estate planning measures in place, their families may struggle with their financial affairs and medical issues. A conservator may have to be appointed by the court regarding the person’s finances and a guardian for health issues, both being subject to court oversight, a costly and cumbersome process.
If you or a loved one do have symptoms of Alzheimer’s, or the disease runs in your family, or have been diagnosed as such but still have the capacity to make important and material decisions about medical and financial affairs, then you need to act quickly to discuss and develop an appropriate plan with an estate planning lawyer. For those who do not have Alzheimer’s, now is the time to get an estate plan in order since you are at a substantial risk of developing this disease the longer you live. Once you are diagnosed, creating a Will, health care directive, or any legal document will become difficult since your mental capacity can be challenged in court.
Estate Plan Strategies for Dementia Patients
While you or your loved ones are capable, talk to elder law attorney Patricia Bloom-McDonald about your estate plan needs. These include:
- – Durable power of attorney (DPOA). You name an agent who will make decisions affecting your financial issues. This power can be conferred upon someone immediately regardless of your capacity, or you can indicate that you must first be declared incompetent by a medical specialist. If you wait too long, you will have to have the court appoint someone as guardian or conservator so that decisions regarding financial matters can be made. “Durable” meaning that it can still be used “during” your mental incapacity.
- – Living Will language in your DPOA and HCP. Massachusetts does not have a “Living Will Statute” therefore including language about your advance medical directives in your DPOA and HCP is a message to your appointed Agent about your intention regarding end-of-life care such as whether extraordinary measures should be taken to save your life under certain conditions.
- – Health Care Proxy with advance medical directives (HCP). Similar to the durable power of attorney for financial affairs, this agent can pay your medical expenses, access your medical records, enforce your living Will language directions, and decide on a particular method of care or approve certain treatments and where it is to be administered.
- – Set up a revocable or irrevocable trust. You can place property in the trust, which then becomes the owner. You can place instructions as to how the trust assets are to be used upon your incapacity. The trust assets are not subject to creditor claims and your named beneficiaries of the trust assets need not go to probate court to have the assets transferred to them upon your death.
- – Last Will and Testament. For non-trust assets, funds not in Payment on Death (POD) accounts or for any other property, create a Will to leave these assets to whomever you wish. If you plan to omit a child from an inheritance in your Will, discuss this first with your estate planning lawyer.
- – Business entry strategy. If you have business interests, have your attorney review any agreements you have regarding what happens to your interests upon retirement, sudden death or incapacity. Without a business succession plan in place, a conservator or the agent you named in your DPOA may act as your agent and make decisions for you that may not be consistent with your own business judgment.
If you or a loved one is in the early stages of dementia and either have no estate plan or wish to update or change the one you have, you might consider having a medical specialist assess your mental capacity to avoid potential issues that may arise.
If you have any issues or concerns about estate planning for yourself or relative, call elder law/estate planning attorney Patricia Bloom-McDonald in Massachusetts. Her practice is devoted to issues affecting those who are retiring or have already retired, and seniors; planning for their health and financial affairs should they become unable to make vital decisions affecting their well-being and security. Call her today for a no-cost initial consultation.