While it’s important for everyone to plan for the future, legal plans are especially vital for the person with dementia.
Once a person is diagnosed with dementia, family and friends should help the person make legal plans. The sooner plans can begin, the more the person with dementia may be able to participate.
In This Article:
1. Making plans for health care and long-term care coverage
2. Making plans for finances and property
3. Naming another person to make decisions on behalf of the person with dementia
Legal capacity is the level of judgment and decision-making ability needed to sign official documents. In most cases, the person with dementia is able to understand the meaning and importance of a given legal document.
The requirements for legal capacity can vary from one legal document to another. A lawyer can help pinpoint what level legal capacity is required for a person to sign a particular document.
Guardianship/conservatorship is given by the court when it finds that a person is legally incompetent. In the case of dementia and its effect on the brain, legal incompetence relates to the person’s inability to make decisions about his or her care or property. Once a court rules that a person is legally incompetent, a guardian or conservator is appointed for that person. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia alone is not an indication of incompetence.
- A Living Will states a person’s choices for future medical decisions, such as the use of artificial life support. A living will only comes into play when a doctor decides that the person is irreversibly ill, or critically injured and near death.
A Power of Attorney allows the person with dementia (called the principal) to name a person (called an agent, usually a trusted family member or friend) to make financial decisions when he or she is no longer able (legally incompetent). Most powers of attorney are “durable,” meaning that they are valid even after the principal can no longer make decisions for himself or herself.
A Power of Attorney for Health Care allows a person to name an individual (agent) to act on his or her behalf to make health care decisions when he or she is no longer able. These decisions include health care providers, kinds of treatments and care facilities.
A Living trust is created by a person who can make his or her own financial decisions. The person can appoint someone else as trustee (usually a trusted individual or bank) to carefully invest and manage the property (assets) of the trust.
A Will is a document that shows whom the person with dementia has chosen as the executor (the person who will manage the estate) and beneficiaries (those who will receive the estate). A will only takes effect when the person with dementia dies.
- Talk with the person- Find out if the person with dementia understands the legal documentand the consequences of signing it. Make sure the person knows what is being explained and what he or she is being asked to do.
Ask for medical advice- A doctor may assist in determining a person’s level of mental ability.
Take inventory of existing legal documents-Verify whether living wills, trusts and powers of attorney were signed before the person was diagnosed. The person may no longer remember
having completed them.
Get legal advice and services from an attorney. If the person with dementia is older, consider meeting with an attorney who specializes in elder law. Elder law focuses on guardianship, disability planning and other legal issues that typically affect older adults.
Your can contact your local Alzheimer’s Association office for suggestions regarding elder law attorneys in your area. Find your local office or call us at 1.800.272.3900. Also, if needed, free legal advice may be available in your community. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging or the Eldercare Locator at 1.800.677.1116 or www.eldercare.gov.
All documents relating to the property (assets) of the person with dementia should be gathered ahead of time so you can show them to your lawyer.
Checklist for the meeting with your lawyer should include the following:
- Itemized list of the property (assets), including current value and the names listed as owners or account holders
- Copies of all estate planning documents, including wills, trusts and powers of attorney
- Copies of all deeds to real estate
- Copies of recent income tax returns
- Life insurance policies and cash values of policies
- Health insurance policies or benefit booklet
- Admission agreements to any health care facilities
- List of names, addresses and telephone numbers of involved family members and caregivers as well as financial planners and/or accountants
Be sure to talk to your lawyer about these three key issues:
- Options for health care decision-making for the person with dementia
- Options for managing the person’s property
- Possible coverage of long-term care services, including what is provided by Medicare and other heath insurance
Source: Alzheimer’s Association
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