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Estate planning for someone facing dementia

As our population ages, more and more people are dealing with parents who are suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other conditions that can cause dementia. Sometimes, signs of dementia don't show up until a person is elderly. Increasingly, however, people are diagnosed in the early stages, before their memory and cognitive functions become noticeably impaired.

If you have a parent or other loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or a condition like Parkinson's disease that can lead to dementia, it's essential to ensure that you plan for their eventual needs and care as part of their overall estate planning.

If your loved one still has what is called "testamentary capacity," which is the mental capacity to understand the implications of the documents they are putting in place, they can determine what they want in their estate plan. It's essential to establish that they have that capacity, or those documents can be challenged in court.

An essential part of estate planning for someone anticipating a future with dementia should involve granting powers of attorney to trusted family members or others to make financial, legal and health care decisions for them when they're no longer able to do so. It's also a good idea to draft an advance directive that designates their end-of-life wishes. For example, under what conditions do they want resuscitative and life-prolonging measures stopped?

If your loved one will eventually be needing full-time care, either in a nursing home, assisted living facility or by a home health care provider, it's essential to plan for how that will be paid for. Medicare and long-term care insurance often don't cover the entire cost -- particularly if you want your loved one to have the best possible care.

If your loved one already lacks testamentary capacity and is not able to play a role in developing any of these documents, you may need to consider establishing a legal guardianship. Guardianships are essential to protecting vulnerable and incapacitated adults. An experienced estate planning attorney can provide valuable guidance and help you as you work to do what's best for your loved one and your family.

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