Dementia is a general term referring to a broad range of symptoms affecting memory and thinking. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for 60-80% of all dementia cases. Some may use the word “senility” to describe an individual with short-term memory loss, but this is inaccurate, because senility refers to mental weakness brought on by aging, whereas dementia can occur at other life stages. Most forms of dementia are progressive, meaning symptoms which may be barely noticeable at first tend to worsen over time.
While elderly people are at risk for developing dementia, others may develop dementia due to brain injury, medications, and certain health conditions. Because life can be full of twists and turns, it makes good sense to put into place your financial, legal and end-of-life plans now, while you are healthy. In fact, this experience can be empowering, allowing you to take control of providing for your family and enjoying your life.
What to Include in Your Legal Planning
Your first step is to take inventory of any current legal documents in your possession. Do these documents need updating? Many times they do, as life circumstances can change over time. Take time to think about your needs and wants, and talk to trusted family members about decisions you must make regarding finances, property, short- and long-term healthcare preferences, and beneficiary selection.
Legal documents may include:
- Power of Attorney – allows you to name another individual to make financial and other decisions on your behalf
- Power of Attorney for Health Care – allows you to name a health care agent to make health care decisions on your behalf
- Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) – indicates your wishes to receive or deny specific types of life-sustaining treatment
- Advanced Directive – allows you to document your preferences regarding treatment, care, end-of-life wishes
- Living Will – a type of advanced directive expressing your medical treatment wishes
- Standard Will – provides direction for distributing your estate upon your death
- Living Trust – provides direction about your property and assets
These legal documents and others help to safeguard your wishes if and when you become unable to participate in decision-making. The ability to make your own decisions is called “legal capacity”, indicating you can understand and appreciate the consequences of your decisions. Legal capacity can vary among documents, and laws differ across states. In Missouri, the qualified attorneys of Quinn Estate & Elder Law can explain legal capacity to help you make informed decisions.
Keep in mind that any documents you execute (sign) today are not implemented unless and until your legal capacity is diminished.
Copies of your legal documents should be given to your health care team, your attorney and your spouse.
Planning for your future health and the well-being of your family should not be taken lightly. Get help from a qualified elder law attorney to better understand your options and plan for the future.