An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be very emotional. It can hit you like a locomotive and may take some time to accept. At Clarity Legal Group all of our clients are advised and encouraged to come see us to review their planning when they get any kind of health diagnosis that has the potential to be life changing. Alzheimer’s Disease certainly falls into this category. Over the years, I’ve sat down with a number of people facing this and hope that I have helped them think about the implications and feel as though they are doing something proactive.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, deterioration of thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex. Unlike many other diseases, such as AIDS, experts do not believe Alzheimer’s has a single cause. Instead, they believe the disease is multi-faceted with several factors influencing the development of the disease. The complexity of the disease makes finding a cure, and even effective treatment for those suffering from the disease, more difficult. While there are some medications on the market now that help slow the cognitive decline that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s for some people, we are not yet close to finding a truly effective treatment regime, much less a cure.
Estate Planning Steps to Take After a Diagnosis
It is common to experience a range of emotions following an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, including anger, denial, and depression. Many sufferers and loved ones also experience a feeling of helplessness because there is no cure for the disease. Taking the following steps can help you regain a certain amount of control over your life and your future as well as help protect your loved ones and yourself:
- Review your estate plan with a focus on incapacity planning. The progression of Alzheimer’s is far from predictable; however, at some point down the road you will reach the point at which you are legally incapacitated. To ensure that someone of your choosing takes over control of your assets as well as personal decision-making for you, make sure you have an incapacity plan in place now.
- Review any existing Powers of Attorney. A traditional Power of Attorney (POA) terminates upon the incapacity of the Principal (creator). If you want a POA to survive your incapacity you must make it durable. Keep in mind, however, that in most states, an Agent cannot make end of life health care decisions even with a general POA. For that you will need an advance directive.
- Make sure you have an advanced directive in place. If you have strong feelings about end of life medical treatment, the only way to ensure that your wishes are honored is to execute an advance directive that expresses those wishes and/or appoints an Agent to make decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself.
- Prepare for the cost of long-term care. Most Alzheimer sufferers eventually need the type of around the clock care and protection that is only available at a long-term care facility. The cost of that care will undoubtedly be prohibitive which is why you need to plan for it now. Like over half of all seniors today, you may need to rely on Medicaid to cover the cost of LTC. To ensure that you qualify for Medicaid when the time comes, incorporate Medicaid planning into your estate plan today.
- Write down your wishes for your family. The biggest change in your family after receiving the diagnosis is the need to write down what is important to you about your life in face of the practical realities of the course of the disease. Family members who are serving as the Agent under your financial or health care Power of Attorney can best do their job when they understand your specific wishes. Sometimes these instructions need to be in the legal documents, but in others they are best documents in a letter of guidance. This can not only help them help you, but also can help avoid the kind of conflicts within the family that often occur when people are making decisions for someone they love while under stress.
- End of Life Planing — Outside of the Box. The conventional Advanced Directly or Living Will I described above is an essential part of planning, but increasingly we are being asked at Clarity Legal Group about the legal and practical implications of end of life choices which are not legal in North Carolina but are legal elsewhere. At Clarity, we support clients who seek to explore these options and if this is something that might apply to you, we encourage you to begin the process of investigating the options early.
Contact Durham Elder Law Attorneys
If you are ready to get started on your estate plan, please contact the Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham elder law attorneys at Clarity Legal Group by calling us at 919-484-0012 or contact us online.
- 10 Estate Planning Tips to Help You Create a Successful Plan - July 11, 2023
- Spousal Elective Share in North Carolina Explained - June 29, 2023
- What Is a North Carolina NFA Gun Trust? - June 29, 2023