A diagnosis of dementia, a category of diseases affecting memory and thinking that includes Alzheimer's disease, can feel overwhelming and upsetting. You might worry that you will lose control over your life and ability to make your own decisions. Fortunately, receiving a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's does not mean that you cannot execute legal documents or make decisions about plans for your future finances and health care.
People with dementia can execute legal documents to plan for their futures when they have the mental state — or legal capacity — to do so. Legal capacity refers to your ability to understand the contents of a legal document, such as a Will or Trust, and know the consequences of executing it. If you know who your family is, understand your assets, and comprehend your Will or Trust, you can execute a valid Will or Trust and plan for the distribution of your estate after your death, provided you understand what you are signing and its effect on your life.
The following can help you in planning where you wish to live, what kind of care you receive, and what happens to your assets if you get severely ill or pass away.
Patient Advocate Designation
Consider appointing a patient advocate to make medical decisions if you become incapacitated. You can name a patient advocate in a Patient Advocate Designation, which is sometimes called a medical power of attorney or a durable power of attorney for health care in states other than Michigan. Your patient advocate can then make medical choices for you if you can no longer do so.
Picking someone you trust, such as a responsible child or spouse, or another family member, can give you peace of mind that they will have your best interests and desires in mind when they make decisions. For instance, dementia patients who prefer receiving in-home care can express this wish to their patient advocate.
In the patient advocate designation, you can also state your intentions regarding health care and limit your patient advocate's capabilities if you wish.
For an added layer of protection, your patient advocate designation can include an advance directive or living will provision that states your desires regarding medical treatment if you are unable to communicate with your physician and you are at the end of your life. These provisions can express whether you want your patient advocate to decline additional medical treatment and procedures if they would serve only to prolong artificially the process of dying. Of course, if you still have your mind and communicate, you can decline additional treatment in this situation. Your patient advocate's authority to act on your behalf is only activated when two physicians determine that, due to your condition, you are unable to effectively make or communicate informed medical decisions.
Financial Power of Attorney
Using a financial power of attorney, known as a General Durable Power of Attorney in Michigan, you can select a trusted individual to manage your financial affairs if your disease progresses such that you can no longer make financial decisions. Your financial agent can manage your money and pay bills on your behalf, but they cannot use your money for themselves.
In the General Durable Power of Attorney for property management, you can restrict your agent's powers. For instance, a person might specify that the agent can manage personal accounts, but not sell the family home.
Long-Term Care Planning
After a dementia diagnosis, consider whether you would like to receive long-term care at home or in a facility, and whether you intend to apply for Medicaid or long-term care insurance. If you want to apply for Medicaid, you might need to prepare your finances to become eligible.
Last Will and Testament
Making a Last Will and Testament, also known as a Will, can help ensure your assets go to your family and friends when you pass away. You can determine how much of your money each beneficiary will receive and make devises (the legal term for gifts in Wills) to individuals. For example, if you have items of sentimental value, you can leave them to specific people. Without a Will, your assets will transfer to your heirs according to Michigan's law of intestacy.
Consider meeting with an elder law attorney to discuss your plans for your future. You are welcome to call me at 248-469-4261 or use the contact form on this website.