According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 5.3 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. Women age 60 and over are considered at highest risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a progressive form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. While estate planning is important for everyone, it is especially important to consider after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s as Alzheimer’s can affect an individual’s capacity to manage his or her own affairs and live independently. Below are a few advance planning tips to consider if you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or you have a family history of the disease:
1) Gather and Compile Important Documents
Because Alzheimer’s can progress quickly or slowly, it’s important to gather your important documents and records so your agent, family member, or attorney can access them if the need arises. A trusted family member or advisor should know where these documents are and have access if they are secured in a safe or bank safety deposit box. “Important documents” refers to legal documents like a will and Power of Attorney documents as well as financial documents including any life, home, and health insurance policies, bank and brokerage accounts, and contact information for family members. If you do not have estate planning documents like a will, Power of Attorney, or advance directive, contact our office as soon as possible. Estate planning documents require the individual signing the document to have the legal capacity to understand the consequences of the legal document. Although the legal capacity required to execute estate planning documents varies based on the specific document, in most cases an individual who has just received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can understand the meaning and importance of a given legal document and thus has the legal capacity to sign it. However, the ability to understand the consequences of legal documents may slip as Alzheimer’s progresses. Our office can help determine whether an individual with dementia has legal capacity or not.
2) Consider a “Shadow Plan”
Because individuals with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to develop the disease, some individuals choose to create a plan that would come into effect only if they are actually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This “shadow plan” can include Power of Attorney documents that name an agent to act for you only if you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and your physician determines you are incapable of managing your own financial and healthcare decisions and appoint a guardian of your estate and person.
3) Plan for Future Costs of Care
The costs of caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s can be staggering. Although an individual may be able to remain at home alone in the early stages of the disease, eventually more help is needed. Many Alzheimer’s patients relocate to a memory-care facility or require a full-time home aide. Our office can help you take stock of your financial assets and consider what long-term services are provided by Medicare, Medicaid, veteran benefits and other long-term care insurance plans. Financial planning for your future needs is essential and can help ease the burden on family members.
4) Property Management
A person who has received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis but still retains most of his or her faculties should appoint an agent now to manage his or her property when the disease progresses. This person can be an attorney or a trusted family member or friend with good financial management skills. This individual will be in charge of paying bills, taxes, and monitoring the individual’s financial accounts. An individual recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can fully participate in the creation of a property and asset plan to be followed by the agent down the line.
5) Remain Calm
Although an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be understandably devastating, remember that there will be good days and bad days. An individual with Alzheimer’s should enjoy time with loved ones, especially in the early stages of the disease. We understand the stress of Alzheimer’s and are devoted to providing planning solutions for clients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their families. If you have recently been diagnosed or fear a diagnosis due to a family history of the disease, we can help guide you through all the legal implications surrounding an Alzheimer’s diagnosis including medical and financial planning, advance directives, and guardianship. Please contact our office to set up a consultation.