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Preparing an estate plan for a parent with dementia

Dementia is one of the most debilitating conditions afflicting the elderly. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.8 million people currently suffer from this disease in the United States alone. If your mother or father is one of them, you know you have a difficult road ahead.

While it is unpleasant to plan for the passing of a loved one, it is crucial to prepare when the person involved has dementia. It is never too soon to sit down and discuss your parent’s estate plan, including any existing paperwork and undocumented wishes.

Begin the process early

Symptoms of dementia are often difficult to predict, and one person’s prognosis may differ drastically from another. With this kind of uncertainty, it is in your parent’s best interests to act as soon as possible. 

Because confusion and memory loss are common amongst dementia patients, it becomes difficult for them to make decisions as the illness progresses. Starting an estate plan early allows your parent to have meaningful input in how you carry out his or her wishes. It provides the opportunity to name you as executor or power of attorney, both of which are key for terminally ill individuals.

It is possible that your parent already has a solid plan in writing. It is still a good idea to discuss what currently exists and decide if you need to make any adjustments. During these conversations, make sure you understand where to locate all necessary paperwork.

Assess legal capacity

A person’s legal capacity determines whether he or she has the appropriate mental faculties to make informed choices. As you work through the estate plan, your parent’s doctor may bring this up if it becomes a concern. Because these decisions involve legal documents, a judge must make the final determination.

It is important to note that legal capacity is not a generalized condition. In other words, your parent may be capable of making some decisions but not others. A clinician must evaluate each specific choice and make the appropriate recommendations to the judge.

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be a trying time, but a concrete estate plan is important. You can honor your mother or father’s requests by being proactive in gathering documents and discussing these sensitive decisions well in advance.

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