Summary: Alzheimer’s Disease can affect people across a wide array of ages and races. For that reason, it is important to act without delay to craft an estate plan that will protect your family and yourself. It is also important to make sure that you update your plan regularly to reflect any changes in your life. A complete and updated plan, which includes a will, advance directive and powers of attorney, along with possibly a living trust, can make sure that your have your planning goals in writing and that you have clearly designated who you want to make decision for the management of your assets and your personal care should you lose the ability to make those decisions yourself.
Actress Julianne Moore’s Oscar-winning portrayal of an accomplished Ivy League professor in her early 50s who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in the recent film “Still Alice” is just the latest reminder that Alzheimer’s can affect wide range of people. Three years ago, Hall Of Fame basketball coach Pat Summitt retired as head coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team at the young age of 59. She retired because, a year earlier, her doctors diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s. Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that African-Americans are 200% more likely (and Latinos 150% more likely) than whites to develop the disease, though these groups are less likely to be diagnosed.
While having the knowledge that Alzheimer’s can attack a wide spectrum of ages and races is important, that knowledge must also be put into action. So how should you plan for the possibility of Alzheimer’s? One of the key steps is to create an estate plan right away, and to update it regularly. Your estate plan will allow to put down your planning goals while you are unaffected by any type of dementia or other cause of mental incapacity. Your regular updates will make sure that your plan reflects the current state of your planning preferences and your family’s life situation. An estate plan crafted when your children are elementary school-aged will likely look different than what you’d want it to say 20 years later when your children are adults and perhaps have spouses and children of their own.
Your plan should include a will, an advance directive (“living will”,) and powers of attorney. Your health care power of attorney may be especially important because, if you have Alzheimer’s, you may live for a period of many years after you’ve lost the ability to make decisions for yourself and this document will empower the person you prefer to interact with your doctors with regard to managing your care. A financial power of attorney allows the person you designate to manage your financial affairs if you become incompetent. Depending on your preferences and your financial situation, you might choose to ensure the continued management of your financial matters through the use of a living trust. Utilizing a trust can provide for a seamless handoff of the control of your financial affairs by possibly helping you avoid the need to go to court to obtain the appointment of a guardian or conservator of your financial estate.
With regard to updating your plan if you have Alzheimer’s, it is important to remember that just because your doctors have diagnosed you with Alzheimer’s, that does not necessarily make you mentally incapacitated and unable to modify your plan. Many people with Alzheimer’s can live for months or years before the disease becomes so advanced that it makes them incompetent. Because the disease is unpredictable, however, it is vital to act on your estate planning goals without delay.