A diagnosis of dementia, a category of diseases affecting memory and thinking that includes Alzheimer’s disease, can feel overwhelming and upsetting. You might worry that you will lose control over your life and ability to make your own decisions. Fortunately, receiving a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s does not mean that you cannot execute legal documents or make decisions about plans for your future finances and health care.
People with dementia can execute legal documents to plan for their futures when they have the mental state — or capacity — to do so. Capacity refers to your ability to understand the contents of a legal document, such as a will, and know the consequences of executing it. If you know who your family is, understand your assets, and comprehend your will, you can execute a valid will and plan for the distribution of your estate after your death, provided you understand what you are signing and its effect on your life.
The following can help you in planning where you wish to live, what kind of care you receive, and what happens to your assets if you get severely ill or pass away.
Consider appointing a health care agent to make medical decisions if you become incapacitated. You can name a health care agent using a health care power of attorney, sometimes called a medical power of attorney or a durable power of attorney for health care. Your health care agent can make medical choices if you can no longer do so.
Picking someone you trust, such as a responsible child or spouse, or another family member, can give you peace of mind that they will have your best interests and desires in mind when they make decisions. For instance, dementia patients who prefer receiving in-home care can express this wish to their agent.
In the power of attorney document, you can also state your intentions regarding health care and limit your agent’s capabilities if you wish.
For an added layer of protection, you can also draft an advance directive or living will that states your desires regarding medical treatment if you are unable to communicate with your physician. Your living will can express whether you want treatment to prolong your life.
Using a financial power of attorney, known as a power of attorney for property, you can select a trusted individual to handle your financial affairs if your disease progresses such that you can no longer make financial decisions. Your financial agent can manage your money and pay bills on your behalf, but they cannot use your money for themselves.
In the power of attorney for property document, you can restrict your agent’s powers. For instance, a person might specify that the agent can manage personal accounts, but not sell the family home.
After a dementia diagnosis, consider whether you would like to receive long-term care at home or in a facility, and whether you intend to apply for Medicaid or long-term care insurance. If you want to apply for Medicaid, you might need to prepare your finances to become eligible.
Making a last will and testament, also known as a will, can help ensure your assets go to your family and friends when you pass away. You can determine how much of your money each beneficiary will receive and make bequests to individuals. For example, if you have items of sentimental value, you can leave them to specific people. Without a will, your assets will transfer to your heirs according to the law in your state.
Consider meeting with an elder law attorney in your area to discuss your plans for your future. For additional support and to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, reach out to your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter.