Dementia is a chronic or persistent syndrome caused by brain disease or injury and marked by deterioration of memory, personality changes, and impaired cognitive function. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, the number of people who are affected by dementia increases. Perhaps more alarming is that individuals in their fifties are more commonly being diagnosed with dementia. Although you may never have to deal with the challenges that arise with a dementia diagnosis, it is still vital that you complete your estate plan early, while you have the mental capacity legally required to make estate planning decisions and execute estate planning documents.
To maintain a measure of control over the healthcare you receive after you become mentally incapacitated, it is important to complete both a healthcare power of attorney and a living will. A healthcare power of attorney designates a person to make healthcare decisions for you once you become incapacitated. A living will describes what type of life support you would like to receive, and under what circumstances you would like certain life-prolonging procedures to be stopped. When completing these documents, you should consider the following questions:
- Where would you like to live and receive treatment? For instance, would you like to receive care in your home or be moved to a specific assisted living facility?
- Whom do you trust to make financial and healthcare decisions for you?
- How will you pay for your care?
An individual must possess adequate mental capacity to make healthcare decisions and execute legal documents such as a healthcare power of attorney and living will. After a diagnosis of dementia, therefore, it may be impossible for a person to execute these documents or amend existing ones. To make healthcare decisions for a person who has been deemed incompetent and has not executed a healthcare power of attorney, an individual would have to petition a court for guardianship over that person. This is why it is important to make an estate plan and execute the appropriate documents now.