November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness month. We often say that everyone over age 18 needs some sort of “Estate Plan”, but it is especially true for those showing signs of or are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. An estimated 5.4 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. As Alzheimer’s is a progressively debilitating disease that destroys memory and cognitive thinking, it is critical that Estate Planning documents, including Advance Directives, are implemented prior to the loss of capacity. The essential documents necessary to make financial, health and long-term care decisions include a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy and Living Will as well as Revocable Living Trusts or Irrevocable Medicaid Trusts. A Last Will & Testament only addresses division of property after death, but is an important component of a comprehensive estate plan.
A Power of Attorney is one of the most important legal documents as it gives an agent the ability to make financial decisions when your loved one is no longer able to. These powers can include managing assets and income, directing investments, paying bills and transferring assets into a trust.
A Health Care Proxy is a document that gives an agent the ability to make health care decisions on behalf of your loved one when he or she is no longer able to. This can include choosing doctors and other health care providers, as well as the types of treatments and care facilities used. A Living Will contains language that expresses specific wishes with regards to types of life-sustaining treatment such as artificial life support and nutrition. This is different than a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order from a doctor or hospital. Advance Directives help avoid family disagreements and distress by establishing end-of-life plans. The agents named in these documents are responsible for acting according to the person’s wishes and in his or her best interest.
If your loved one owns assets or property individually in his or her name, various types of Trusts can be utilized to manage their assets during lifetime and after death to avoid probate and may offer additional asset protection features. The attorneys at the Herzog Law Firm can help explain the various types of Trusts, and which one may be beneficial for your situation. For example, an Irrevocable Medicaid Asset Protection Trust may be utilized in order to qualify for Medicaid long-term care benefits at home or in a nursing facility. It is also important to look at Beneficiary Designations as certain assets such as life insurance, IRAs or annuities should not pass not through a Will or Trust.
In the absence of valid Advance Directives and Estate Planning documents, or if a person does not have the mental capacity to understand their affairs, you will need to pursue Guardianship in order to make these decisions. Often, those in the early or mid-stages of dementia are still able to understand the meaning and importance of a legal document. Greater public awareness and medical advancements have led to earlier diagnoses, when cognitive function may still be intact. Regardless, it is always best to do proactive planning. Guardianship is an extremely invasive and costly court process which can cost upwards of $10,000 (even when not contested). The attorneys at the Herzog Law Firm can meet with you and recommend the proper course of action based on your loved one’s needs.
If you or someone in your family is concerned about the prospect of dementia, or currently caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, it is imperative to get the proper legal documents in place as quickly as possible. The Estate Planning and Elder Law attorneys at the Herzog Law Firm are here to help and support you and your family through the process. Schedule a complimentary consultation by calling 1-800-777-7581 to get a thorough review of your particular situation.