If you have a family member who is suffering from some form of dementia, you know how financially difficult providing quality care can be. According to a study published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, the financial burden on the nation as a whole is staggering, with the costs now exceeding those of both heart disease and cancer.
Dementia isn’t a specific disease but refers to a loss of brain function, affecting memory, language, judgment and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of progressive dementia. A report last month by the Alzheimer’s Association revealed that one in three adults over age 65 will die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
If you have a family member who is showing early signs of dementia, it is critical to put an estate plan in place now. Once someone becomes incapacitated, it is generally too late to create or make changes to many legal documents. At that point, you would need to petition the court for a conservatorship or guardianship to manage your loved one’s affairs. The following documents should be part of any estate plan, and are especially important for those with early stage dementia:
- Health Care Proxy – appoints a person of your choosing to make health care decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated
- Living Will – allows you to make known your final wishes, typically concerning medical treatments and pain relief (though it is not legally enforceable in Massachusetts, it can serve as a guide for your health care proxy)
- Durable Power of Attorney – authorizes a designated individual to manage your affairs in the event you can no longer do so yourself
- Trust – centralizes management of your assets by appointing a trustee to manage your assets for the benefit of you and others whom you designate
Long-term care planning is also a necessary part of a comprehensive estate plan. Nursing home costs can be financially draining. The costs in Massachusetts are well above the national average. However, there are steps you can take to help pay for this care, while still protecting your assets. Some strategies include long-term care insurance and the use of an irrevocable trust to plan for MassHealth eligibility.
Proper estate and long-term care planning can help ease the financial burden on families afflicted by dementia. Regardless of your current age or health, it is critical that you create an estate plan while you are still mentally and physically able to do so. Contact Attorney Kristina Vickstrom at 508-757-3800 to discuss your options today.