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Not all that long ago, senility was accepted as a general term for a significant loss of cognitive skills often seen in older individuals. Today, this is no longer the case. Now “dementia” is the term used to describe certain maladies resulting in the degeneration of memory, language, problem solving, and similar skills.

More than 5 million Americans are now living with some type of dementia, and that number is only expected to increase in the next 30 years. We know this can be a devastating diagnosis to receive and that you and your family may have questions. Let us share with you what you need to know about estate planning if you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or any other type of dementia.

First, you may wonder if, when you have this diagnosis, you are able to make an estate plan or change an existing estate plan? Your ability to create an estate plan or change your current estate plan may depend on whether you are capable of the following:

  • Understanding your personal situation 
  • Understanding your family dynamics
  • Making your own decisions
  • Understanding the consequences of your actions

These are just a few of the considerations that you and your estate planning attorney will discuss. We use this as an example, if you are able to complete the above, you may be able to legally proceed with making or amending an estate plan.

As you face this diagnosis, it is important to ensure that your estate plan does more than just provide for your family after you pass away. While you will want to make a last will and testament, and possibly a trust agreement, you will also want to make sure that you include lifetime considerations as well. For example, if you are unable to make your own decisions, who will:

  • Pay the bills
  • Speak to your doctors
  • Order your prescriptions
  • Make sure your home is maintained

While it is important to choose the person you wish to act for you, it is equally important to ensure that he or she has the legal authority to take actions on your behalf. When you plan forward with your estate planning attorney you will want to consider a durable power of attorney. This is a legal mechanism that lets you address future financial and personal concerns. Specifically, it allows you to name someone to make financial decisions and engage in certain transactions for you when you are no longer capable of doing so.

Further, in light of your diagnosis, you may want to include provisions in your estate plan that address future health needs. This could include health care documents, including a living will. Through your health care planning you can name a decision maker and also specify the type and extent of medical intervention you would want in certain circumstances. It would be used only in situations where illness or injury renders you incapable of expressing these wishes yourself. 

In any case, the bottom line is that estate planning is unique to you. Depending on your personal circumstances, your estate plan may include some or all of the legal documents detailed here and it may need to be created to include others as well. When you consult with an estate planning attorney, he or she will also be able to discuss other options that may meet your needs as well. When you are ready to have your questions answered we encourage you to contact our law firm.