Key Documents Are Essential before Signs of Dementia

DementiaIn the beginning stages of dementia, someone who handles the family finances forgetting to pay bills is just one common warning sign. The spouse doesn’t know about it until the bank calls the house warning that the mortgage has not been paid in months and is in default. Accounting for the possibility of your own and your loved one’s eventual mental incapacity is a key part of any estate plan.

A recent articlein Physician’s Monthly Digest, titled “Dealing With a Loved One’s Cognitive Decline Is Simpler with Right Legal Documents in Place,”says that a healthcare proxy and a durable power of attorney are key legal documents to have before there are any signs of mental incapacitation. The documents allow you to designate another person to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf once you are unable to do so. This can be your spouse, an adult child, a friend, or a trusted adviser. Without a power of attorney, your spouse will need a court order to access any non-joint accounts that you have.

You should also draft a living will, or advance directive. That way your agent and your healthcare staff will have your instructions as to whether to administer life-sustaining medical treatment if you are in the late stages of dementia, terminally ill, or near death. The living will can take the burden off of your loved ones when it comes to making tough medical decisions like whether to keep you on life support or not.

You should also entrust someone else with the power to take control of your affairs with a healthcare proxy and power of attorney. These documents will only become effective when your medical staff decide you lack the wherewithal to make medical and financial decisions for yourself. The laws for these type of documents vary from state to state, so talk to an experienced elder law attorney about how it works where you live.

The original article also recommends that you make sure your loved ones not only know about these important documents, but also where you keep them. You should give copies of the executed documents to your appointed agents, and give copies of your healthcare proxy and living will to your healthcare providers. This simple step can help your doctors ensure that your wishes are respected.

Ensuring that you have the appropriate documents in place will give peace of mind to you and your loved ones. Contact an experienced elder law attorney. He or she can help you define your goals and can draft the documents accordingly.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: Physician’s Monthly Digest (February 27, 2015) “Dealing With a Loved One’s Cognitive Decline Is Simpler with Right Legal Documents in Place”

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