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What Caregivers Need to Know About Estate Planning for a Loved One With Dementia - Part 1


Caring for a loved one with dementia is a challenge that millions of families undertake each year. As a caregiver, understanding how a dementia diagnosis affects your loved one’s legal decision-making is crucial to ensuring their wishes are honored and that you are providing them with the best possible care.


In this blog, we'll explore the importance of estate planning, even after a dementia diagnosis, as the best method to ensure the wishes and rights of your loved one are protected.


Understanding Incapacity


Dementia is a progressive condition that affects memory, cognition, and daily functioning. As dementia causes your loved one's cognitive abilities to decline, there may come a time when they are no longer able to make sound decisions about their finances, healthcare, and overall well-being. 


When the effects of dementia make it difficult for a person to understand information and make sound decisions, that person is considered to be incapacitated, which means they can no longer legally make healthcare or financial decisions for themselves. This change in their memory and cognition can be emotionally overwhelming for both your loved one and your whole family, and without proper planning, can require court involvement.


Thoughtful estate planning can ensure that your loved one is cared for by the people they know and trust if they can no longer care for themselves, and even if you’re loved one has already been diagnosed with dementia, it is still possible for them to create a legally-binding estate plan during the early stages of the disease.


Estate Planning In The Early Stages of Dementia


Every adult should create certain legal documents to protect their rights and wishes, and this is no different for a loved one with a dementia diagnosis. What is important to remember is that in order to create a legal document, you need to be fully aware of what you are doing and what the consequences of your choices will be.


Thankfully, a person does not need to constantly be in a state of capacity to create an estate plan. As long as your loved one has the mental capacity at the moment they sign their estate plan documents, the documents will be valid, even if they regress into a state of incapacity afterward.


In the early stages of dementia, and ideally long before any health problems surface, your loved one should create the following estate planning documents:


1. General Durable Power of Attorney

A General Durable Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal tool that allows your loved one to appoint someone to make financial and legal decisions on their behalf. Their POA can write checks, pay bills, maintain their home, and manage their financial assets. 

This document becomes especially significant as dementia progresses. Encourage your loved one to designate a trusted individual as their Power of Attorney while they are still able to make such decisions. 


2. A Revocable Living Trust

A General Durable Power of Attorney is an important tool, but many financial institutions place constraints on the use of a POA or don’t acknowledge their authority at all. To make sure your loved one has complete protection of their financial wishes, encourage them to establish a Revocable Living Trust and move their assets into the name of the Trust. 

As part of creating a Trust, your loved one will name the person they want to manage their assets, called the Trustee. The Trustee and Power of Attorney are usually the same person, but not always. By having these two estate planning tools in place, you can rest assured that the people your loved one knows and loves will be able to manage their assets for them as their dementia progresses. 


3. Power of Attorney for Healthcare

Similar to a General Durable POA, a Power of Attorney for Healthcare (HPOA) appoints someone to make medical decisions on behalf of your loved one when they are unable to do so for themselves. Discussing and establishing a Healthcare Power of Attorney early on allows your loved one to express their medical preferences and ensures their wishes are honored. 

Their Power of Attorney for Healthcare should also include a Declaration to Physicians, also called a Living Will, that outlines their desires regarding medical treatment, life support, and end-of-life care. Creating a Declaration to Physicians and discussing their wishes with you ensures that their preferences regarding life-sustaining treatment, resuscitation, and other medical interventions are documented and respected.


Plan As Early As Possible


One of the most crucial steps in preparing for the challenges of dementia is to help your loved one complete their estate planning while they still have the capacity to do so. Waiting until the later stages of the disease can limit their options and increase stress for everyone involved. 


By addressing legal matters early on, you can ensure that your loved one's wishes are respected, and their affairs are managed in the way they intended, by the people they trust, without the need for court involvement. 


If you have a loved one with more advanced dementia, check back here next week as we explore late-stage estate planning options and methods to avoid family and legal conflict over your loved one’s care. 


To learn more, schedule a complimentary 15-minute call with our office.  Contact us today to get started.


This article is a service of Compass Legal Planning, a Personal Family Lawyer® Firm. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning™ Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. 


The content is sourced from Personal Family Lawyer® for use by Personal Family Lawyer® firms, a source believed to be providing accurate information. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal, or investment advice. If you are seeking legal advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.   


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