Why is it important to plan your estate or revise your estate plan as soon as you receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease?
The early symptoms of Alzheimer's, a degenerative brain disease, are usually mild cognitive impairment, often so mild they are commonly mistaken for signs of simple aging. Although the disease is an awful one, and the prognosis is never good, this early period can give patients and their families the gift of time to make important, necessary decisions about personal care and finances. Early on, the patient may experience some confusion and memory lapses, but he or she usually still has the intellectual capacity to participate in discussions about the foreseeable future. Sad as this situation may be, it gives the patient some control over matters of his or her own life and death.
Signs of Alzheimer's Early Disease
During its earliest stages, Alzheimer's may show one or many of the following symptoms:
• Short-term memory loss
• Confusion over time and location
• Lack of initiative
• Difficulty completing routine activities
• Changes in mood or personality
• Trouble handling money
During such early stages, the patient may still be completely capable of assisting in the decision-making process. Once the disease progresses, however, developing psychiatric symptoms will undoubtedly interfere with coherent dialogue.
It is important that families with members who have been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's do not immediately write off their relatives as unfit for decision-making. Such patients, facing a dismal future, should at least be given the chance they deserve to help determine their own future care.
Steps To Be Taken in Estate Planning for Alzheimer's Patients
The Alzheimer's Association recommends that planning in this situation include the following:
A Living Will that specifies the type of care the patient wants to receive, the time at which it should begin or be discontinued. It also pinpoints any care the patient wishes to outright refuse. Living wills are also helpful in stipulating not only end-of-life care, but post-mortem arrangements, such as autopsies.
A Medical Durable Power of Attorney that designates the person the patient would like to act as a patient advocate when the patient is unable to make legal and financial decisions. Without such directives, the guardianship process leads to court involvement and possible litigation among family members.
In addition to legally and financially focused discussions, it is desirable for family members to have meetings of a more personal nature so that everyone is in agreement about arrangements. While it is not possible to cover all the bases, it is helpful and reassuring to everyone involved to understand the patient's wishes.
The painful process of estate planning for patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's can be greatly eased by the assistance of a competent and compassionate estate planning attorney, who knows all the legal ramifications of your decisions and is focused on maintaining the dignity of the patient.