Financial & Legal Planning for Dementia – How and When to Start the (Very Necessary) Process

An Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis often comes as a shock.

And that diagnosis throws a big monkey wrench into the lives of both those diagnosed as well as their families. Often, most of the focus falls on the physical, mental and emotional care that those with dementia require.

However, there’s another important aspect that can’t be ignored. And it’s one that’s better to face head on sooner rather than later.

The Financial and Legal Side of Dementia

There are a number of financial and legal considerations that need to be made for (or by) someone with dementia. And while it’s not exactly easy or fun to deal with these issues, they shouldn’t be ignored.

Now, if there’s a small saving grace in this otherwise upsetting situation, it’s this…

There have been major advancements in being able to diagnose Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Both in terms of getting an accurate diagnosis as well as being able to detect dementia in its early stages.

If your loved one does get an early diagnosis, they may have little or no impairment either mentally or physically. And, in that case, your loved one can (and should) play an active role in making decisions about their financial and legal future.

Listen, we know it’s not pleasant to think about the end of someone’s life. However, it’s an essential part of making sound financial and legal decisions.

As dementia progresses, your loved one will become less and less able to make sound decisions. This is why it’s better to make legal, financial and end of care life decisions as soon as possible.

This will give your loved a chance to be a part of the process, help make the decisions that will shape their (and your) future and take some of the burden off of you in having to handle it all.

Bottom line is it’s much easier on everyone once the financial and legal logistics have been taken care of. And it will free up precious time (and head space) later on as your loved one’s care needs increase.

Okay, so you know why it’s important to handle all this stuff ASAP. Now the question becomes WHAT needs to be done/decided upon. Well, here is some advice to point you in the right direction…

What Documents Will You Need?

Many families hire an attorney and/or estate planning expert to help with the legal and financial decisions that need to be made. One of the things hiring a professional like this can help with is making sure you have all the right documents in place.

Here are a few of the documents you may find you’ll typically need…

Health Related Documents

  • Living will
  • Durable power of attorney
  • DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) Order
  • Organ/tissue donation preferences

The above documents will clearly lay out the health care wishes of a person who is unable to make these decisions on their own.

Financial Related Documents

  • Will
  • Power of attorney for finances
  • Living trust

The above documents will clearly lay out the financial and estate plan wishes of a person who is unable to make these decisions on their own.

Before You Hire a Professional

It’s a good idea to gather some documents on your own before hiring an attorney or estate planning professional.

These include things like:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • Marriage certificate / divorce papers
  • Health, long term care, disability, etc. insurance policies
  • Bank, brokerage and/or retirement account statements
  • A list of medications and current physical

Having all these things in one place will make creating your financial and legal plan easier. It will also be helpful for other situations that may pop up in the future where you’ll need quick and easy access to these docs.

Long Term Care Planning

It’s also important to plan for the long term care needs of your loved one with dementia.

Often family members initially provide care for their loved ones. However, as the disease progresses, more advanced levels of daily care are needed.

There are a number of options from in-home care to assisted living to a dedicated memory care facility. The first step is deciding on the best options for your loved one (again, when you do this sooner rather than later, your loved one can be involved in the process and help decide on their future care options).

Once you’ve chosen the type of memory care, then you can better understand the costs of that care and how to best pay for it.

Will it be covered by insurance? Will it by private pay? Are there government benefits available to cover some/all of the costs?

It’s also a good idea to talk directly with some dementia and/or senior care organizations in your area. Those discussions will give you the best idea of what the costs will be.

Additional Resources

We wish we had a simple, straightforward recipe for you on how to handle all this financial and legal stuff. But how to best proceed largely depends on your loved one’s situation, where you live, what insurance policies they have, the care options in your local area, etc.

Which is why meeting with a trusted, professional attorney and/or estate planning professional will be a great first step.

There are also a number of helpful resources out there to help guide you and your loved one through the financial and legal process of dealing with dementia.

Two good ones are this PDF from the Alzheimer’s Association (which is a good in depth overview) and this web page from the National Institute on Aging (which, like this article, is a good starting point).