Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Estate Planning and Dementia

We hope that everyone enjoyed the long holiday weekend and is ready to return to work refreshed and prepared for a successful week. Today's blog addresses the difficult subject of preparing for a time when we are unable to make our own decisions due to the onset of disease. We know how difficult these times are for families and encourage our clients to consider these possibilities in their planning in order to limit the problems that will arise if they are unable to make decisions for themselves.

I read an article recently about Dementia Awareness Week in the United Kingdom which got me thinking about how people can prepare for the impact of dementia long before any signs of the condition are apparent. A diagnosis of dementia can be devastating to a person and their loved ones. The symptoms of dementia are progressive and its time frame is unknown, but can include memory loss, communication problems, and mood changes.
While dementia can be a horrible diagnosis, with proactive estate planning you can ensure that someone with dementia is protected and properly cared for making that challenging time a little easier. As a person becomes less able to handle their affairs, it becomes more important to put documents in place that will allow designated people to make legal and medical decisions on behalf of that person as they become medically incapable of handling their own affairs.
A Durable Power of Attorney is a good place to start. This document allows a person to name another person or persons to make legal decisions for them immediately or upon a determination of. This ensures that whether because a person no longer wants the burden of making decisions or because they are unable to make decisions for themselves, that those decisions will be made by a person of their choosing.
A Patient Advocate Designation is similar to a Durable Power of Attorney, in that it is used to name another person to make decisions when a person is unable to make them for themselves, but names people to make medical instead of legal decisions. This is especially important in cases of dementia because ensuring that your desires surrounding healthcare are followed even when you cannot articulate them for yourself is important.
Without these two documents, loved ones will not be able to readily make decisions for a person who becomes incapacitated, requiring the family members to turn to the Probate Court to have a Conservator and Guardian appointed to make medical and legal decisions. The process is costly, can take valuable time, and is a public process. By executing a Durable Power of Attorney and a Patient Advocate Designation, a person can avoid the probate process and provide for immediate decision-making and protection of the person with dementia.
Establishing a Living Trust (a revocable trust) can also protect a person with advancing dementia. If ownership of assets have been transferred to the Trust, the person named as successor trustee can use those assets to care for a person with dementia without any cost, delay or public scrutiny by the probate court. 
Additionally. while they are able, a person diagnosed with dementia may also want to consider an Ethical Will, which is a way to share one's values, life lessons, and hopes with family and friends. The Ethical Will does not transfer material wealth, but can be a statement of what truly matters in life and a hope that those who receive eventual inheritances will take to heart the values and hopes laid out in the document.
While all of these documents are especially pertinent for a person diagnosed with dementia, we should all consider implementing them in order to protect ourselves against an untimely incapacity.

Alan and Matt

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