by Thomas D. Begley, Jr., CELA
Background on Alzheimer’s
According to the American Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to memory loss and changes in thinking and other brain functions. It usually develops slowly and gradually gets worse as brain function declines and brain cells eventually wither and die. Ultimately, Alzheimer’s is fatal and currently, there is no cure. An estimated 5.3 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. Thirty-six percent are age 85 or older, 43% are between 75 and 84, 16% are between 65 and 74, and 4% are under age 65.
Once an individual is diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s, what steps should be taken?
Estate Planning Documents
Assuming the client still has mental capacity, the first step would be to review any existing estate planning documents and bring them up to date, or if there are no such documents, to put them in place. These documents include the following:
- Wills are designed to transfer property on death. In most states, the requirements to make a Will are that the individual must be 18 years of age or older and of sound mind. This is why it is important to make a Will before the individual diagnosed with Alzheimer’s deteriorates.
- Living Trust. A revocable Living Trust is designed to avoid probate on the death of the individual. If the individual owns real estate in more than one state, the real estate can be transferred to a Living Trust to avoid probate in multiple states.
- Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney. A Health Care Power of Attorney simply appoints a Health Care Representative to make medical decisions without giving any direction to the representative. A Health Care Power of Attorney can be combined with an Advance Directive/Living Will. The Advance Directive gives instructions for end-of-life decision-making. There are essentially four choices: (1) terminate life; (2) treat aggressively; (3) Medical Power of Attorney; or (4) ignore the problem and have a guardian appointed by a court to make medical decisions. The first three options make sense, the fourth option does not.
- Financial Power of Attorney. The Financial Power of Attorney is also known as a General Durable Power of Attorney. The principal designates an individual to serve as an Agent to transact financial decisions on the individual’s behalf.