Alzheimer's Disease and Legal Issues
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, it is necessary to consider legal and financial matters. People with Alzheimer's may have the capacity to manage their own legal and financial affairs right now, but as Alzheimer's advances, they will need to rely on others to act in their best interest. This transition is never easy. However, advance planning allows people with Alzheimer's and their families to make decisions together for what may come.
Clearly written legal documents that outline your or your loved one's wishes and decisions are essential. These documents can authorize another person to make health care and financial decisions, including plans for long-term care. If the person with Alzheimer's disease has the legal capacity -- the level of mental functioning necessary to sign official documents -- he or she should actively participate in legal planning.
Obtain legal advice and services from an attorney. If your loved one is age 65 or older, consider hiring an attorney who practices elder law, a specialized area of law focusing on issues that typically affect older adults. As you plan for the future, ask the attorney about the following documents:
- Power of attorney. This gives a person with Alzheimer's disease (the principal) an opportunity to authorize an agent -- usually a trusted family member or friend -- to make legal decisions when he or she is no longer competent.
- Power of attorney for health care. This gives a person with Alzheimer's disease an opportunity to authorize an agent to make all decisions regarding health care, including choices regarding health care providers, medical treatment, and, in the later stages of the disease, end-of-life decisions.
- Living will. Allows the person with Alzheimer's disease to express his or her decision on the use of artificial life support systems.
- Living trusts. Enables a person (the grantor or trustor) to create a trust and appoint himself or herself or someone else as trustee (usually an individual or bank) to carefully invest and manage trust assets once the grantor is no longer able to manage finances because of cognitive impairment.
- A will. A document created by an individual that names an executor (the person who will manage the estate) and beneficiaries (those who will receive the estate at the time of the person's death).
A caregiver of an individual who no longer has the legal capacity to execute powers of attorney or trusts may have to become that individual's guardian or conservator. A guardian/conservator, appointed by a court, has the legal authority to make decisions regarding the care and custody of the person with Alzheimer's disease.
The first step in planning how to pay for your loved one's future medical and living expenses is to start with an honest look at your family's current financial situation, as well as that of the person with Alzheimer's disease.
- Assemble the person's assets by locating such financial documents as bond certificates, bank account statements, real estate deeds, and insurance policies.
- Work with a qualified adviser, such as a financial planner, an estate planning attorney, or an accountant, to coordinate financial strategies and investments, locate potential financial sources, and identify tax deductions.
- Identify expenses you may encounter, including ongoing medical treatments, prescription medicines, care services, and consumable products, such as incontinence supplies or nutritional supplements.