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You can plan to protect yourself against the possibility of Alzheimer's

by Legacy Plan
April 30, 2024

Alzheimer's disease, often characterized as a progressive neurological disorder, significantly alters the lives of not only those who are diagnosed but also deeply affects their families. The disease typically manifests a gradual decline in cognitive functions, which encompasses memory, understanding, judgment and decision-making abilities. As Alzheimer's progresses, these impairments become more severe, often leading to a stage where the individual becomes completely dependent on others for daily care and support.

In the early stages, subtle symptoms like forgetfulness or mild confusion may be noticeable. However, as the disease advances, these symptoms become more pronounced, affecting the individual's ability to perform routine tasks, recognize loved ones or engage in conversations. Eventually, in the later stages, the person may require round-the-clock care, as they lose the ability to communicate effectively, control motor functions and recognize even their closest family members.

This gradual but relentless progression of Alzheimer's poses unique challenges and considerations for estate planning. Recognizing the potential trajectory of the disease, individuals and families are increasingly seeing the value of proactive estate planning. Such planning becomes a vital tool, allowing individuals to assert their wishes and make key decisions about their assets and health care preferences while they are still able to.

Understanding Alzheimer's and its implications

One of the most challenging aspects of Alzheimer’s is its impact on an individual's ability to make informed decisions. As the disease progresses, it can diminish the capacity to manage financial affairs effectively or make sound decisions regarding health care and other personal matters. This decline can lead to situations where individuals may become vulnerable to financial mismanagement or abuse and may struggle to communicate their health care preferences effectively.

The trajectory of Alzheimer's disease is often unpredictable and varies from person to person. While some may experience a slow progression, others may face a more rapid decline. This uncertainty underscores the importance of early and comprehensive planning. Proactive planning is crucial because it allows individuals to express their wishes and make critical decisions about their estate, health care and end-of-life care while they still have the capacity to do so.

Recent statistics indicate an alarming increase in the number of Alzheimer's cases, partly due to the aging population. This trend necessitates a broader awareness and understanding of the disease, not only from a medical perspective but also in terms of legal and financial planning. Early planning is particularly essential in Alzheimer's cases, as it provides an opportunity to implement measures that reflect the individual's wishes. These measures can include setting up trusts, drafting a will appointing powers of attorney for financial and health care decisions and creating advance health care directives.

Furthermore, early planning also involves having open conversations with family members and loved ones about the individual's wishes and the plans in place. This communication ensures that when the individual reaches a point where they can no longer make decisions, their family and caregivers are clear about their preferences and can act in their best interest, according to the established plan.

Key components of an estate plan in Alzheimer's context

In structuring an estate plan for individuals with Alzheimer's, particular elements of the plan become increasingly crucial. The progression of Alzheimer's disease can significantly impact a person's ability to manage their affairs. As such, specific components of an estate plan are designed to safeguard the individual's wishes and ensure proper management and distribution of their assets in light of their diminishing cognitive abilities.

Wills and trusts help ensure wishes are honored

A pen rests on top of a document titled 'Last Will and Testament'

The cornerstone of any estate plan, a last will and testament, serves as a directive for how an individual's assets should be distributed after their death. It is especially important in the context of Alzheimer's to have a will in place while the individual is still capable of making clear decisions. This ensures that their assets are bequeathed according to their wishes, preventing potential disputes among heirs and ensuring that their legacy is honored as intended.

Trusts, meanwhile, offer a more dynamic approach to asset management and protection, especially beneficial in Alzheimer's planning. A trust can be set up to manage the individual's assets during their lifetime, which is particularly useful if they reach a point where they are unable to manage their finances. A trustee, appointed in accordance with the individual’s wishes, manages the assets in the trust, providing for the individual's needs and eventually distributing the remaining assets to the designated beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust. Trusts can be tailored to the individual's specific circumstances, offering flexibility and control over how assets are used and distributed.

Durable power of attorney: delegating decision-making authority

In the face of Alzheimer's disease, where an individual's ability to make sound, informed decisions may progressively decline, establishing a durable power of attorney (PoA) is a proactive and critical step. This legal instrument is designed to maintain a level of personal control and decision-making authority, even when the individual is no longer capable of managing their own affairs due to the effects of the disease.

What is the nature and importance of a durable power of attorney?

An older couple discussing documents with a person

The durable power of attorney is a legal document that enables an individual, often referred to as the principal, to designate another person, known as the agent or attorney-in-fact, to make decisions on their behalf. What sets the durable PoA apart from a standard power of attorney is its resilience in the face of the principal’s incapacity. It remains effective and empowers the agent to act, even after the principal has lost the mental capacity to make decisions, a common occurrence in the later stages of Alzheimer's.

The extent of authority granted under a durable power of attorney can be tailored to the principal's specific needs and preferences. It can range from broad to very specific powers. Typically, the agent is authorized to handle a variety of tasks, which may include:

  • Financial management. This can encompass everyday financial tasks such as paying bills, managing bank accounts and overseeing investment portfolios.

  • Property transactions. The agent may be responsible for buying, selling, maintaining or renting out property on behalf of the principal.

  • Legal affairs. This includes addressing legal matters, representing the principal in legal proceedings and engaging in litigation if necessary.

  • Government benefits. The agent might also be tasked with managing government benefits like Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

Selecting the appropriate agent is a decision of immense importance. The ideal agent should be someone trustworthy, reliable and capable of handling the responsibilities that come with the role. It’s often advisable to choose someone who has a good understanding of the principal's financial situation and personal values. This might be a family member, a close friend, or, in some cases, a professional like an attorney or financial professional.

The process of establishing a durable power of attorney involves legal formalities, which may vary by state. Generally, it requires the principal to be of sound mind when signing the document, underscoring the need for early planning, particularly in the context of Alzheimer’s.

It’s also crucial to regularly review and, if necessary, update the durable power of attorney. Changes in personal circumstances, relationships or financial situations may necessitate adjustments to the document.

For the individual with Alzheimer’s, having a durable power of attorney in place provides a sense of security and reassurance that their affairs will be managed according to their wishes. For family members, it clarifies who will have the legal authority to make decisions, potentially reducing conflicts and confusion during challenging times.

Health care directives and living wills guide health care decisions

Alzheimer's can profoundly affect an individual's ability to make health care decisions. Health care directives and living wills allow individuals to specify their preferences for medical care, including end-of-life care. These documents are critical in ensuring that the individual's health care wishes are respected, especially in later stages of Alzheimer's where they might be unable to communicate their desires. By appointing a health care proxy or agent, individuals can ensure that someone they trust is making health care decisions based on their predetermined preferences.

Beneficiary designations streamline asset distribution

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Beneficiary designations are a key component of estate planning, particularly for assets like life insurance policies and retirement accounts. In the context of Alzheimer’s, ensuring these designations are current is vital. As cognitive abilities decline, updating these designations might be overlooked, leading to unintended consequences in asset distribution. By keeping these designations up-to-date, individuals can ensure that their assets are passed on to their chosen beneficiaries in a manner that aligns with their overall estate plan.

Creating a trust for long-term care planning

Trusts are an invaluable tool in the landscape of long-term care planning for Alzheimer's patients, offering flexibility, privacy and control over how assets are used for the individual’s care.

There are several types of trusts that can be beneficial, including:

  • Revocable living trusts. These allow the individual (the grantor) to maintain control over their assets during their lifetime, with the assets then being used for their care as needed. The grantor can change or revoke the trust as long as they are mentally capable.

  • Special needs trusts. Specifically designed for individuals with disabilities, these trusts can ensure that an Alzheimer's patient receives the care they need without disqualifying them from essential government benefits like Medicaid.

  • Asset protection and Medicaid planning. Trusts can be structured to protect assets while potentially making the individual eligible for Medicaid. Since Medicaid has strict asset and income limits for eligibility, proper trust planning can be a strategic part of ensuring the individual qualifies for assistance with long-term care costs.

  • Management of finances. Trusts allow for the appointment of a trustee who will manage and distribute the trust's assets according to the specified terms, ensuring that the Alzheimer’s patient’s financial needs are met consistently throughout the progression of the disease.

Guardianship and conservatorship considerations

An elderly person's hands are clasped over their chest in a gesture that suggests gratitude, comfort, or memory

In situations where an Alzheimer's patient has not established a durable power of attorney or a trust, or if their condition has progressed beyond their earlier planning, guardianship or conservatorship may become necessary.

These are legal arrangements in which a court appoints a guardian or conservator to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual. The guardian or conservator has the authority to make personal, medical and financial decisions, depending on the court's directive.

Advance planning for the possibility of guardianship or conservatorship is crucial. It allows individuals to express their preferences for who should be appointed in these roles, thus ensuring that their care and affairs will be managed in a way that aligns with their values and wishes.

Long-term care for Alzheimer’s can be expensive, including in-home care, assisted living or nursing home care. Understanding these costs is essential for effective financial planning.

Long-term care insurance can be a critical component of planning, helping to cover some of these costs. It’s important to consider purchasing such insurance well before Alzheimer’s symptoms begin, as most policies have medical underwriting requirements.

Regular reviews and updates of estate plan are needed

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, and an individual's needs and circumstances can change over time. Regularly reviewing and updating the estate plan ensures that it remains accurate and relevant.

Working with legal and financial professionals for these updates is important, as they can provide advice on current laws and best practices.

Comprehensive estate planning in the context of Alzheimer's involves careful consideration of trusts, potential guardianship or conservatorship, financial planning for long-term care, open communication with family and regular updates to the estate plan. This multi-faceted approach ensures that the individual’s care needs are met and their wishes are honored throughout the progression of the disease.

How do I create an estate plan?

There are numerous options and scenarios to consider when developing an estate plan that protects your legacy and achieves your objectives, and important decisions should be made with the advice of qualified lawyers and financial experts. Membership with Legacy Assurance Plan provides members with valuable resources and guidance to develop comprehensive estate plans that take life's contingencies into consideration and leave a positive impact for generations to come. Legacy Assurance Plan members also receive peace of mind that a team of trusted, experienced professionals will assist them in developing legal, financial and tax strategies that will meet their needs today and for years to come through periodic reviews.

This article is published by Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at legacyassuranceplan.com.

Phone - 844.445.3422
Email - info@legacyassuranceplan.com
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