Having a family member diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can be devastating. On top of it, you will have to deal with a lot of serious considerations where most need to be addressed as quickly as possible before the disease takes over the patient.
One of the first steps you are to take as a family member is, of course, deciding on how the patient will receive medical care. But you will also need to make some legal decisions for the future. An estate plan should be created as soon as possible to allow the patient to be able to express his or her full wishes. This will ensure that all the details of the plan are in accordance with what the patient wants. To make it a bit easier for you, we listed some information and guidelines to help you through the process.
Legal Planning Basics
Legal planning should be considered by all people, healthy or sick, young and old. But for people diagnosed with dementia, it’s even more important. For the patient, it is important that he or she acts as soon as possible to ensure that he will be able to fully participate and clearly express his or her wishes during the planning.
Below are the three factors involved in legal planning:
- Health care planning that includes long-term care needs.
- Planning to ensure that finances and property are well-taken cared of.
- Choosing someone who will make future decisions on behalf of the patient.
Who are the individuals that should be involved in the process?
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease affect an individual’s cognitive function and memories which may make them unable to handle the legal considerations and decisions all by themselves. This makes legal planning a family affair where children, siblings or closest keen need to extend assistance to ensure the process would go as smoothly as possible. Below are some of the individuals who may be involved in the process:
- The patient- Despite his/her disease, the patient should still be involved in legal planning. Even if the diseased has already progressed, the individual should still be consulted when appropriate to ensure the result of the planning will be in line with his/her goals and desires.
- The patient’s spouse – if the patient is married, and the spouse is still alive, he or she should be involved in the legal planning given that most of the estate in the discussion will be owned by both parties.
- Children of legal age – for an unmarried or widowed individual, who’s incapable of handling or making legal decisions or the individual wishes to get some help, children of legal age can be involved in the process provided they have a good loving relationship with the patient.
- The patient’s lawyer – the patient’s lawyer, if any, should also be involved since he or she would be able to bring a legal perspective to the decision-making process.
- Closest kin or friends – Close relatives or friends may also be able to provide unique insight about the patient’s wishes so they may also be consulted especially if they will be assigned as trustees, agents, or executors.
Though these individuals could very well help come up with decisions, having too many people involved may make the process confusing so it’s strongly advised to let the ultimate decision come from the patient, if possible.
Legal capacity refers to the individual’s ability to understand the consequences of his/her actions and decisions and execute his/her will through signing legal documents. This is the first factor to consider when making decisions about an individual suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia since the patient’s capacity to come up with decisions can be shifting from time to time.
The individuals below can help determine a patient’s legal capacity:
- A lawyer who had already dealt with dementia patients.
- A physician or medical practitioner.
- Family members or loved ones.
When it comes to planning for the future with a dementia patient, you will have to consider a number of legal documents which includes but are not limited to:
- Power of Attorney – the document that gives someone the right to make decisions on behalf of the patient.
- Last Will and Testament – A document that will state how the individual’s estate will be dispersed after his/her death.
- Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment/Living Will/Advance Directive – Includes several documents with the same function – to provide guidance to medical practitioners on which treatment methods the patient does or does not want.
We know how hard it is for you having someone you love diagnosed with Dementia or Alzheimer’s but we hope that through this article we’ve lightened up the burden a bit. Good luck!