Dementia lies at the core of America. One in eight older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the country, and there is no effective cure for it.
Alzheimer’s touches upon all aspects of life. One under-discussed effect of Alzheimer’s is its impact on estate planning.
How do Alzheimer’s and dementia impact estate planning? What are some steps someone should follow to plan their estate? What should a person do to chart a course for medical treatments?
Answer these questions and you can make the process of estate planning easy, even after a dementia diagnosis. Here is your quick guide.
The Effects of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder. Amino acids can build up inside the brain, forming plaques and causing cells to die.
The damage begins in the areas of the brain that help a person remember things. As the disease progresses, it affects parts of the brain that control language and reasoning. The brain can begin to atrophy, shrinking in size until an individual is unable to function.
Dementia is not a disease, but a set of symptoms. It involves a loss of memory and cognition. A person remains conscious, but they are unable to regulate their emotions and behavior.
Alzheimer’s contributes to 60% to 70% of all dementia cases. But dementia can occur due to protein buildup in the brain or a lack of blood supply. A stroke can damage brain cells and facilitate or start the process of dementia.
The First Steps of Estate Planning
Dementia complicates estate planning because a person will lose the ability to think clearly through time. Even in its initial stages, a person will struggle to make decisions because they are losing their memory.
Estate planning should begin as soon as possible. An individual can start planning in their 20s before they begin their adult life in earnest. Anyone can write a will and name beneficiaries and medical proxies.
The first step of planning should be consultations with financial advisors and doctors. A person should understand how much money is in their estate.
Someone with dementia can sit in on these meetings or ask someone to take notes for them. They should also do research on estate planning and read more info.
Once these consultations are done, plans can be set in motion. If the individual with dementia had a previous will or planning documents, the documents can be used to chart a future course. In some cases, no changes may need to be made.
Someone who has acquired more money over the years may need to change parts of their will. They may need to assign new beneficiaries or adjust how much money a person will receive. The individual and their family can make these changes in one meeting with a lawyer.
Health Care Directives
Advance directives are formal documents that discuss someone’s health care wishes. While a person has some cognition, they can make their own health care decisions. But once they start to lose their legal decision-making abilities, the directives go into effect.
If time is running out, directives should be the first priority. They only carry legal power if the person who drafts them has an understanding of what they are doing.
The person should select someone to have the power of attorney for health care. An individual with the power of attorney will make decisions on the person’s behalf. This can be a family member, spouse, or close friend.
A living will provides more details about the treatments that a person wants. They can describe curative and palliative measures.
A do-not-resuscitate order (DNR) tells doctors that they should not perform CPR if the person’s heart or breathing rates stop. Someone may sign this so that they don’t live with brain damage after resuscitation.
There are several documents a person may need to sign for organ donation and blood transfusions. They can also write in their will that they would like their organs donated to other people after they die. But these are optional.
Financial and Estate Management
Someone who has not done financial management before can do so after health care directives are in order. A will delegates who receives an individual’s assets after they die. It can also describe arrangements for any dependent children and a person’s burial.
Many people stop after writing a will. It may be enough for someone with a small estate or who does not have people dependent on them.
If the person with dementia does have dependent children, they should prepare a living trust. This appoints an individual to manage their assets on their behalf. Children can cover their expenses and find a new place to live.
A related document is the power of attorney for finances. This document names an individual to make comprehensive financial decisions. The person with the power of attorney can figure how to pay for medical treatments and cover important expenses.
Each of these documents should be drafted over time. Someone may have dementia for years, and their decline may be steady. Lawyers should review the documents for any edits that can be made.
Making Estate Planning Easy
Estate planning is always tricky, but Alzheimer’s can make things excruciating. Alzheimer’s prevents a person from thinking clearly. They may lose legal decision-making abilities right away.
This makes it necessary to start estate planning in advance of old age. Someone should have meetings with financial advisors and figure out an approach for their estate.
They must write health care documents, including a DNR order. Once those documents are written, they can turn to a will and power of attorney.
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