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Family members with Alzheimer's: Is it time to plan ahead?

Perhaps your parent just received a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and you are wondering about what the future holds. If the two of you have not yet discussed subjects like health care directives and powers of attorney, now would be a good time.

Legal documents to consider

When your goal is to prepare for what might happen as your parent ages and Alzheimer's symptoms become more pronounced, having important legal documents in place will help ease the worry and stress for you both.

Here are a few to consider:

  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care or sometimes referred to as Designation of Health Care Surrogate: This will allow you to make decisions for your parent that relate to medical matters including the choice of health care providers, treatment, hospital admittance, life support, and access to medical records.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Finances: This document will give you the authority to make both legal and financial decisions on behalf of your parent.
  • Living Trust: As someone with Alzheimer's, your parent may agree to the creation of a living trust, whereby a trustee named will be responsible for overseeing the assets and, after your parent's death, will see that the plan is carried out according to their wishes.

When a guardianship may be necessary

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the appointment of a guardianship may become a necessity . In this situation, a decision maker, referred to as a guardian, is appointed by the court to take care of your parent's affairs when they are no longer capable of handling them on their own.

Courts will typically appoint a guardian of another when less restrictive alternatives, like a durable power of attorney, are no longer viable options.

Preparing for pushback

It is up to you to decide when to discuss these matters with your loved one. However, when the time comes, prepare for trepidation or even pushback from your parent.

Individuals, particularly those who are very independent, are often reluctant to give up their decision making power in any capacity. In some cases, older parents may even think their child is ganging up or possibly trying to take advantage of them.

Reaching out to an attorney experienced with elder law and estate planning matters who can offer guidance, advice, or an overview of the laws and processes involved may be a good first step.

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