November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize those who care for Alzheimer’s patients and people caring for those with other illnesses and disabilities. Many of our clients at Applegate and Dillman Elder Law have been impacted by this disease, and we want to extend our heartfelt support.

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is shattering, and often patients and loved ones don’t know what to do. Preparedness is the best response. In this blog post, we will walk through the legal, medical, and financial implications of a diagnosis, and what everyone involved should consider.

First, make sure you know the 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. An early diagnosis can be critically important and allows precious time to put into place detailed, long-term plans. The days and weeks after receiving a diagnosis are often difficult, but it is important to act quickly in order to ensure the affected person’s wishes are known and documented. In the event of a mid-to-late stage diagnosis, options can become limited and complicated. In any case, there is always help from a trained elder law attorney.

Prepare for your first visit with an elder law specialist

Even for those who may already have an estate plan in place, it’s important to seek advice from counsel that specializes in these particular issues, as laws vary state by state. There are three areas where formal decisions will need to be made: medical, legal and financial. An attorney that specializes in elder law can help you navigate the details of your situation.

There are some initial steps to take before or right after your first legal consultation:

  1. Determine if the diagnosed person has legal capacity
    People with early-stage Alzheimer’s can often understand the decisions and consequences at hand, however this can be difficult to determine. A healthcare professional or a judge can complete an evaluation to ensure mental competency.
  2. Gather all relevant legal and financial documents
    In order to make a long-term plan, it’s important to understand your current situation. Bring any and all information you have regarding medical directives, deeds or loan documents, financial statements, and anything else that reflects assets or previous legal work.
  3. Consider who might be trusted stewards of a long-term plan
    Medical professionals cannot make legal or financial decisions. Legal professionals can only make financial and medical decisions with express permission. There are many ways by which someone is given the authority to make decisions for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Some people designate one individual, a friend or family member, to make both financial and medical decisions; while others may split the responsibilities into two.

Here are some terms that are helpful to know:

Advanced Healthcare Directives
Advanced directives are documents that communicate a person’s healthcare wishes, usually going into effect after the person is unable to make decisions on their own behalf.

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

Gives a designated person the authority to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
A durable power of attorney for finances elects someone to make financial decisions when the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia has been deemed incapacitated by a professional.

Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)
Instructs healthcare professionals not to perform CPR in case of stopped heart or stopped breathing.

Will

A will indicates how a person’s assets and estate will be distributed upon their death. It often includes arrangements for dependents or pets, as well as burial arrangements.

Contact us by phone or email to discuss how our team can help you prepare after a life-altering diagnosis, such as Alzheimer’s. For more information about Alzheimer’s Disease, you can visit the National Alzheimer’s Association website.