Presently, approximately 5.8 million people in the U.S. suffer from dementia, a term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily life. Various conditions associated with dementia include Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, and Frontotemporal Dementia. Needless to say, receiving such a diagnosis 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 such a diagnosis does not mean that you cannot execute legal documents or make decisions about plans for your future finances and health care.
Attorney George Vasiliadis, a principal in the law firm of Vasiliadis Pappas Associates, observes “Many people with dementia retain the legal capacity to execute legal documents to plan for their futures. For example, in Pennsylvania, you can sign a valid Will provided you know what you have, are aware of the objects of your bounty, and know how you want your estate distributed after you pass.”
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.
Health Care Power of Attorney
Consider appointing a health care agent to assist in obtaining health care and to make medical decisions if you can’t. You can name a health care agent using a health care power of attorney, sometimes called a medical power of attorney or a durable power of attorney for health care. Your health care agent can help arrange for needed care, access your medical records, get second opinions, and, if you are unable to make or communicate health care decisions, authorize or refuse medical treatment on your behalf.
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 agent.
In the power of attorney document, you can also state your intentions regarding health care and limit your agent’s capabilities if you wish.
For an added layer of protection, you can also draft an advance directive or living will that states your desires regarding medical treatment in the event of end-stage terminal illness if you are unable to make or communicate medical decisions. Specifically, in Pennsylvania, your living will can express what you want and don’t want in the event of an end-stage terminal condition. It is designed to ensure that medical treatment is provided in order to get well and not simply prolong the dying process.
Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney, known as a Durable General Power of Attorney, allows you to select a trusted individual to handle 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. Attorney Dionysios Pappas, a principal in the law firm of Vasiliadis Pappas Associates, notes that “ A comprehensive durable general power of attorney is an essential legal tool for implementing a long-term care plan to protect your estate against financially-ruinous nursing home costs that may become necessary for someone with dementia.”
Long-Term Care Planning
Sadly, many persons with dementia eventually require long-term care in a nursing home. Arranging one’s legal affairs so as to qualify for Medicaid benefits to pay for such care is an essential component in prudent retirement and estate planning. A properly drafted Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney are essential to ensure proper planning can be implemented.
Last Will and Testament
Obviously, making a last will and testament is also an important component in estate planning. It will ensure that your estate passes to persons of your choosing and not, by default, as the State chooses.
The attorneys at Vasiliadis Pappas have helped thousands of persons with their estate and long-term care planning, and, in particular, cognitively impaired clients. Call us. We can help.