Estate Planning lawyers are here to help you through any number of difficult situations that may arise when caring for an older loved one. One circumstance especially relevant to estate law is dementia, as it is a condition that generally appears or worsens with age. Most forms of dementia are degenerative, slowly progressing over time. Often, they can take a considerable financial toll.
Estate lawyers can help you create a plan to provide for your loved one’s medical needs and quality of life. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the planning options available will depend on the individual’s capacity to sign legal documents and understand the consequences of his or her decisions. That’s why most estate lawyers will tell you that the sooner you can start planning after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia, the better.
Due to the nature of dementia, the question of “who makes medical decisions” will be of great importance. Because the advanced stages of dementia often leave patients unable to communicate, a healthcare proxy should be created in the earlier stages of the disease. This will designate someone the patient trusts to make decisions for them in the event that they can’t speak for themselves. If a healthcare agent is not chosen in advance and the person loses the ability to sign legal documents, the family will be forced to go through a court process called a conservatorship for the right to be in control. The same holds true if the senior fails to appoint a power of attorney who can oversee financial matters.
Asset protection planning can also become important for dementia patients. Because the mental progression of dementia happens much faster than the actual physical progression of the condition, patients and their loved ones can anticipate needing years of care and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, which can deplete existing funds (and the family’s inheritance) if the proper plans are not put into place. Again, depending on the timeframe, your estate planning lawyers may be able to use legal tools such as trusts to protect the senior’s assets while helping the family access benefits and resources that can help cover the cost of care.
Because there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, it’s important to sit down with an attorney to discuss your loved one’s situation as soon as possible. To schedule, a complimentary session with me call 916.247.6868 and mention this blog.