More and more members of families are experiencing the dilemma of expressing their wishes before they become incapacitated from Alzheimer’s Disease, according to USA Today in “B. Smith’s Alzheimer’s raises question: How to protect your wishes when incapacitated.”
The article discusses the case of restaurateur and lifestyle guru B. Smith, who is battling Alzheimer’s, and the events unfolding in her family. A question that has arisen is whether B. Smith would have been comfortable with the events, if she had been asked before the disease had progressed.
More families are experiencing this very same dilemma because of the increasing number of Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. More than 5.7 million people in this country are suffering from this disease, which currently has no cure, and is most likely to impact seniors, women and African Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Without advance planning, it’s impossible to know what someone would want to happen. Discussing this is critical while a patient is still relatively healthy and able to communicate her wishes to family members and to an estate planning attorney.
People who work in this area say there are two areas that must be addressed. One is drafting legal documents with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine who should be entrusted with health care and financial decisions., including a “statement of values” that will help family members understand goals and wishes and not be left guessing.
These decisions are not easy to consider when a person is still well. However, thinking about them and putting them down on paper, and then having the necessary documents prepared to formalize them and make them enforceable are essential.
Here are the documents needed:
Durable power of attorney: This lets a trusted family member or friend make financial decisions, in the event of incapacity.
Health Care Proxy: This document permits a family member or friend to make decisions about health care decisions if you are unable to speak for yourself.
A will. The will is for the disposition of assets after your death. It also names the person who will be in charge, the executor.
A revocable living trust. This is one of many documents that can be used to allow you to set conditions and give directions about disposition of your assets during your lifetime in case you become incapacitated. The provisions can be changed at your direction. Hence, the term revocable. An estate planning attorney will know what type of trust should be used for your situation.
Only four out of 10 Americans actually have wills, because many people incorrectly believe that only rich people need a will. However, without a will, or the other documents described above, the family is left in a terrible situation, where there will be additional costs, if and when decisions need to be made but no one has been legally empowered to make the health care or financial decisions.
The revocable trust could bypass many unpleasant situations, like instructing a power of attorney to place your assets in a trust that was set up specifically to pay for your care in a skilled nursing facility of your choice, or to describe with great specificity who may live in your home if you become incapacitated.
Another missing step: the family discussion. Getting everyone together to discuss planning for the future isn’t as fun as going on a family vacation, but it is important. If someone is starting to feel the effects of dementia, they may not remember what they told another family member. With everyone in the same room, there will be a better chance that their wishes will be clear and be honored.
Reference: USA Today (Jan. 31, 2019) “B. Smith’s Alzheimer’s raises question: How to protect your wishes when incapacitated”