Four Estate Planning Steps to Take Right After an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to start planning immediately. There are several essential documents to help you once you become incapacitated, but if you don’t already have them in place, you need to act quickly after a diagnosis.

A diagnosis in itself does not mean its too late to get your planning in order. When you sign a will, you need to have “testamentary capacity,” which means you must understand the implications of what is being signed. And simply having Alzheimer’s does not mean that you automatically lack the required mental capacity for signing a will or even a power of attorney. As long as you have periods of lucidity, you may still be competent to sign planning documents. But that diagnosis is a wake-up call that time can be fleeting: don't wait

The following are some essential documents for someone diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia:

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is the most important estate planning document for someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. A power of attorney allows you to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf once you become incapacitated. Without a power of attorney, your family would be unable to pay your bills or manage your household without going to court and getting a guardianship, which can be a time-consuming and expensive process. For more information about powers of attorney, click here.

Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney (as it is called in Texas; known as a health care surrogate designation in Florida), like a power of attorney, allows you to appoint someone else to act as your agent for medical decisions. It will ensure that your medical treatment instructions are carried out. For more information about health care proxies, click here.

Advance Directive or Living Will

Advance medical directives and living wills explain what type of care you would like if you are unable to direct your own care at end of life. A medical directive may contain directions to refuse or remove life support in the event you are in a coma or a vegetative state or it may provide instructions to use all efforts to keep you alive, no matter what the circumstances. For more information about medical directives, click here.

Will and Other Estate Planning Documents

In addition to making sure you have people to act for you and your wishes are clear, you should make sure your estate plan is up to date, or if you don’t have an estate plan, you should work with an attorney to create one. Your estate plan directs who will receive your property when you die but it also identifies who is in charge and responsible for carrying out your wishes. Once you are deemed incapacitated, you will no longer be able to create an estate plan. An estate plan usually consists of a will, and sometimes a trust as well. Your will is your legally binding statement on who will receive your property when you die, while a trust is a mechanism for passing on your property outside of probate. For more information about estate planning, click here.

In addition to executing these documents, it is also important to create a plan for long-term care. Long-term care is expensive and draining for family members. Developing a plan now for what type of care you would like and how to pay for it will help your family later on. An attorney can assist you in developing that plan and drafting any necessary documents.