Four Steps to Take Following an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

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.

Having dementia does not mean an individual is not mentally competent to make planning decisions. The person signing documents must have “testamentary capacity-” which means he or she must understand the implications of what is being signed. Simply having a type of mental illness or disease does not necessarily mean that you lack the required mental capacity. As long as you have periods of lucidity- you may still be competent to sign planning documents. For more information, see this resource on mental capacity.

The following are some essential documents for someone diagnosed with 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 financial 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, see this resource on powers of attorney.
  • Advance Medical Directive. An advance medical directive- 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. In general- an advance medical directive takes effect only when you require medical treatment and a physician determines that you are unable to give informed consent regarding your care and treatment. For more information, see this resource on advance medical directives.
  • Living Will. Living wills explain what type of care you would like if you are unable to direct your own care. An advance medical directive can include a living will or it can be a separate document. A living will 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 the circumstances. This form is different from a Do Not Resuscitate Order- commonly known as a DNR- which is typically completed at a health care facility. For more information, see this resource on living wills.
  • 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 in place and up to date. Your estate plan directs who will receive your property when you die. An estate plan usually consists of a will- and may also include a trust if desired. Your will is your legally binding statement on who will receive your property when you die- while a trust is a mechanism for transferring your property outside of probate. For more information, see this resource on estate planning.

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