A diagnosis of dementia, a category of diseases affecting memory and thinking that includes Alzheimer’s disease, can feel overwhelming and upsetting. You might worry that you will lose control over your life and ability to make your own decisions. Fortunately, receiving a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s does not necessarily mean that you cannot execute legal documents or make decisions about plans for your future finances and health care.
People with dementia can execute legal documents to plan for their futures when they have the mental state — or capacity — to do so. Capacity refers to your ability to understand the contents of a legal document, such as a power of attorney or will, and know the consequences of executing it. Because dementia is typically a progressive disease, the window of opportunity to implement a proper elder law and estate plan can close and, in some cases, does close quickly.
The following can help you in planning where you wish to live, what kind of care you receive, and what happens to your assets if you become severely ill or pass away.
Health Care Proxy
Consider appointing a health care agent to make medical decisions if you become incapacitated. You can name a health care agent in New York using a health care proxy. Your health care agent can make medical choices if you can no longer do so.
Picking someone you trust, such as a responsible child or spouse, or another family member, can give you peace of mind that they will have your best interests and desires in mind when they make decisions. For instance, dementia patients who prefer receiving in-home care can express this wish to their agent.
For an added layer of protection, you can also execute a living will that specifies your end of life preferences if your are unable to express them yourself. Your living will can express whether you want treatment to prolong your life.
Durable Power of Attorney
Using a financial power of attorney, known as a power of attorney for property, you can select a trusted individual to handle your financial affairs if your disease progresses such that you can no longer make financial decisions. Your financial agent can manage your money and pay bills on your behalf, but they cannot use your money for themselves.
In the power of attorney, you can also grant your agent the power to engage in Medicaid and other planning which can be very valuable powers to qualify you for government benefits and preserve assets.
Long-Term Care/Asset Protection Planning
After a dementia diagnosis, consider whether you would like to receive long-term care at home or in a facility, and how such care will be paid for. If you want to apply for Medicaid, which is often the safety net for the middle class, you may need to engage in Medicaid planning to prepare your finances to become eligible. Given the five year lookback period for nursing home benefits and impending two and a half year look back period for home care benefits, planning in advance of a diagnosis is preferred. However, even after a diagnosis, some options may still exist as part of crisis planning. As Medicaid rules are complex, such planning is best completed under the guidance of a seasoned elder law attorney. The attorney can also make sure that Medicaid planning is done in a tax efficient manner.
Last Will and Testament
Making a last will and testament can help ensure your assets go to your intended beneficiaries, such as family and friends, when you pass away. You can determine how much of your money each beneficiary will receive and make bequests to individuals. For example, if you have items of sentimental value, you can leave them to specific people. Without a will, your assets will transfer to your heirs according to the law.
Consider meeting with the well-qualified attorneys of Kurre Schneps LLP to plan for your future.
For additional support and to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, reach out to your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter.