People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and their families need to address estate planning issues early while the person has sufficient mental capacity to understand the issues and make informed decisions. Here are several tips that are vital estate planning steps that Alzheimer’s patients and their families need to take now.

Have a Durable Property Power of Attorney to manage your assets. A Power of Attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents for someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. A Power of Attorney allows you to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf once you have become incapacitated. There are two types of Power of Attorney documents. First, a Durable Power of Attorney will allow someone to step in and manage your finances and property. We recommend naming a primary agent in each of these documents and at least one backup in the event that your agent is unwilling or unable to serve. Without a Power of Attorney, your family would be unable to pay your bills or manage your household without going to court for a guardianship, which can be a time-consuming and expensive process.

Make sure your health care documents are up-to-date. A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows someone to make medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so for yourself.   You should also have a separate HIPAA authorization which lists the individuals you have provided authority to in advance so they can speak to your medical providers, review medical records and speak to pharmacists. The last health care document is known as a Living Will which explains what type of care you would like if you are unable to direct your own care at the end of life. This document also will note whether your Healthcare Power of Attorney agent has the ability to deviate from your written wishes or whether your agent and your doctors have to follow your explicit instructions.

Preparing for long-term care needs and costs. There is an unfortunate burden associated with caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Oftentimes, family members will want to make safety-related modifications to the home. There will also likely be additional prescription drug costs and personal care supplies. A major concern is the cost of long-term care if you eventually need to move to a facility or memory care unit. It is important to discuss the financial plan early on after a diagnosis so all family members know how things should be paid for in the future. This is also the time to speak to your Elder Law attorney who can suggest specific trusts that can help protect certain assets from long-term care costs if you planned in advanced.

Think about any funeral plans. Creating a plan for funeral or memorial services that you may want is an important part of your estate plan. Some may want a less traditional celebration of life or opt out of services altogether. While it is not usually written into your Will or Trust, it is important to think about and communicate your wishes to your loved ones. There can also be value in prepaying these expenses so the stress and financial burden is alleviated in the days following your death. Prepaying your funeral is also a strategy in spending down your assets if you are in a nursing home and trying to qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid rules have specific requirements so be sure to speak to your Elder Law attorney if you or your loved one is in this situation.

It is important to act quickly once you or your loved one has received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Our mission is to provide peace of mind to our clients and their families, especially during difficult transitions in life such as an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. We are proud supporters of the Alzheimer’s Association and their mission to advance research and advocacy to families affected by the disease. This October, you’ll find our team at Sandy Point for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. We invite you to walk with us, donate if you’re able to, and most importantly share this event!

Laura Curry is an attorney at Sinclair Prosser Gasior.

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