Estate Planning: When Dementia Is Involved, Plan Ahead

Tamara Polley
By Tamara Polley March 15, 2012 12:00

As more seniors struggle with dementia, their loved ones are left scrambling to organize and handle health care and financial matters. The stress of dealing with the disease and related personality changes is compounded by the pressures of assuming control of the minutiae of daily living. While it is impossible to eliminate these difficulties, steps can be taken ahead of time to make things easier.

Make sure appropriate legal documents are in place. Durable powers of attorney, advance medical directives, wills and other documents allow you to assume responsibility without court intervention. The person creating the document must be able to understand the meaning of what he or she is signing. If your loved one has been diagnosed with or shows signs of dementia and these documents are not in place, see an  estate planning attorney immediately.

Dementia sufferers progress at different rates. If you wait too long, it will be too late and court intervention will be required (through a conservatorship during their lifetime and/or a probate following death.)

Get familiar with the person’s financial affairs. Identifying and locating assets can be one of the most difficult aspects of assuming control. This is much more easily done when the person is still able to help. Even if it is not yet time to take over, begin gathering information.

Plan early for long-term care. As the disease progresses, the type of care needed typically changes. Familiarize yourself with available options, and make a plan as soon as possible. Planning amid a crisis is terribly stressful, and the options can be much more limited than they are years ahead of time. Although long-term care is very expensive, there is help available if you plan ahead. An eldercare attorney can provide valuable assistance.

Caring for a person with dementia is very difficult. Surround yourself with as much support as possible, as early as possible. Family meetings and consistent communication may help avoid misunderstandings, hurt feelings, frustration and resentment. If one person bears the burden of caregiving without the rest of the family’s participation, two things often happen: The caregiver feels isolated and resentful, while the others become critical and suspicious because they do not see the whole picture. Even if the family is spread out so that not everyone can be physically involved, frequent communication is essential.]

Support groups and other resources are available through the Area 12 Agency on Aging and other local agencies. Familiarize yourself with these early so that you know where to turn. Many people wait until they are in crisis to find help, but finding support and resources early on may help you avoid the crisis altogether.

Tamara Polley is an attorney with Gianelli & Polley, a Sonora law firm.

© 2012 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Tamara Polley
By Tamara Polley March 15, 2012 12:00