Accounting for the possibility of your own and your loved one’s eventual mental incapacity is a key part of any estate plan. If your loved one appears to be showing signs of diminishing mental acuity, ask if he or she has the proper documents in place. If so, find out who his or her agent(s) are so that you can alert them.
What if you or a loved one develops dementia? If you didn’t have the mental capacity to take care of yourself or your finances at some point, what would happen? You need to be prepared.
An article in Physician’s Monthly Digest, titled “Dealing With a Loved One’s Cognitive Decline Is Simpler with Right Legal Documents in Place,” says that a healthcare proxy and a durable power of attorney are key legal documents to have before there are any signs of mental incapacitation. The documents allow you to designate another person to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf once you are unable to do so. This can be your spouse, an adult child, a friend, or a trusted adviser. Without a power of attorney, your spouse will need a court order to access any non-joint accounts that you have. The laws for these type of documents vary from state to state, so talk to an experienced elder law attorney about how it works where you live.
You may also want to consider a living will, or advance directive. That way your agent and your healthcare staff will have your instructions as to whether to administer life-sustaining medical treatment if you are in the late stages of dementia, terminally ill, or near death. The living will can take the burden off of your loved ones when it comes to making tough medical decisions like whether to keep you on life support or not.
The original article also recommends that you make sure your loved ones not only know about these important documents, but also where you keep them. You should give copies of the executed documents to your appointed agents, and give copies of your healthcare proxy and living will to your healthcare providers. This simple step can help your doctors ensure that your wishes are respected.
Ensuring that you have the appropriate documents in place will give peace of mind to you and your loved ones. Contact an experienced elder law attorney. He or she can help you define your goals and can draft the documents accordingly.
Reference: Physician’s Monthly Digest (February 27, 2015) “Dealing With a Loved One’s Cognitive Decline Is Simpler with Right Legal Documents in Place”