How Do Estate Plans Change With Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

elderly estate planning will

Let’s present a hypothetical that may or may not be reality: let’s say you know you have advancing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and you want to change your legal plans to reflect this fact.

For your own peace of mind, you want to set everything in place, legally and financially, and work with a local attorney to create your estate plan before your condition worsens. You want to get your legal plans set quickly, but carefully. You want to prepare your family, and prepare yourself. Then, from that point forward, you can stop thinking about legal issues. You can focus on your life, your family, and those things you hold dear.

Estate Planning, Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

First off, you want to PLAN. What does that involve?

  1. You make plans for your property and for your financial assets
  2. You make plans for your health care, and for your preferences when your situation changes
  3. You update your current paperwork and estate plans
  4. You review every document, every life insurance policy, every asset, and take a full and precise inventory
  5. You name a trusted individual who can make decisions for you after you cannot, and you share every piece of information you can with that individual

Right now, you are acting within a “legal capacity.” This means you have the ability to understand your actions, to understand your surroundings, and to understand the legal proceedings you are undertaking.

You will not always be able to act within a legal capacity. Eventually, you will not — and should not — have the power to sign documents. This is for your own protection.

While you are still making rational decisions and acting prudently, you can create legal documents that will only take effect AFTER you lose your ability to act in a legal capacity. Look at your future self as another person, and pretend you are a legal guardian, taking steps to protect this person legally, financially, and medically.

Here are the main legal documents you should be thinking about right now:

  1. Living Will

This is an advance directive. It clarifies what you would like to have happen as you approach the end of your life.

  1. Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment

This form, the POLST for short, covers the specific kinds of treatment you would want if you become seriously ill. Your physician must sign this form. It does not replace your advance directives, but merely sits alongside. Not every state has the POLST.

  1. Power of attorney for health care

This lets you name an agent to make decisions for you when you can no longer act within a legal capacity. This includes what type of facility you can reside in, and the types of treatments you may receive. This also covers Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders, and decisions regarding the use of feeding tubes.

  1. Durable power of attorney for finances / property

This lets you designate a trusted individual to make decisions about your financial assets, income, and investments, once you cannot act within a legal capacity.

  1. Standard Will

This is the Last Will and Testament we all think of — how your estate will be passed along to others after your death.

  1. Living trust

This is like a Standard Will, but refers to the state of your financial resources while you are still alive but unable to act on your own behalf. You can collect your financial resources into one place, a trust, and appoint a trustee to oversee it.