Lately, we've talked with some of our Lynchburg clients about noticing signs of what could be dementia in an elderly loved one and how to plan in advance. Recent studies by researchers at the University of Cambridge find that signs of dementia may appear up to nine years in advance of when the illness is typically diagnosed. Warning signs of dementia may include issues such as testing lower on cognitive tests, having a recent fall, or those who are in poor overall health. However, even if you notice your elderly loved one having difficulties with their memory or you are concerned that their recall is getting worse, we encourage you to speak with our Lynchburg elder law team at The Estate & Elder Law Center of Southside Virginia to discuss how to protect your senior loved one with advance legal planning.
Put Documents in Place Now to Prevent Guardianship
Have the conversation about dementia, says The Tribune-Democrat’s recent article entitled, “Dealing with dementia | Planning ahead: 'Have the conversation.'” Next, create the legal documents with a certified elder law attorney, like Robert W. Haley who can ensure that your senior loved one's choices about decision-making and future care are defined. Note that the documents’ provisions are ineffective, until the person cannot make their own decisions due to reduced mental capacity or decline.
Having the documents in place can help prevent the person from being placed in guardianship by the court. If they have no advance healthcare directives, the family or caregivers must apply to the court for guardianship if incapacity can be proven. When granted, the court appoints a decision-maker, taking away the individual’s ability to make decisions – either in whole or in part. This court oversight continues throughout the individual’s life. Read more about the role of a guardian in our article, What Is the Purpose of a Guardian?
Advanced directives, like a living will, health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney, allow those facing dementia to make their own decisions while they still have the capacity. Family members and potential caregivers should encourage their loved ones to act and get these important documents in place.
An advanced health care directive can include both a living will, which makes known what end-of-life care your elderly loved one wants, and a health care power of attorney, which assigns an agent to carry out their wishes when making health care decisions. The document states goals and values on which to base the decisions. It doesn’t take away the senior's rights to make those decisions and can cover a broad range of medical decisions, or it can be narrow and limit the types of decisions.
Choose Financial and Health Care Agents Carefully
The documents can be revoked anytime but don’t expire until the individual dies. The agents also don’t become personally responsible for the senior’s debts. Careful consideration should be used in choosing the agent, which can be a family member or other trusted person. The agent should be capable and have a good relationship with your elderly loved one.
A financial power of attorney is similar. It names an agent and doesn’t take away the individual’s decision-making ability. It ends with death and can be revised anytime. It can include handling money, checks, deposits, property sales and pursuing legal action. However, changing beneficiaries of insurance or making gifts requires specific instructions.
The agent selected should be a person who understands your elderly loved one’s feelings and point-of-view and is trusted to respect the individual’s wishes. They should be adept at handling their finances, as financial management becomes very important regarding what type of housing your elderly loved one will have in the Lynchburg area.
Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA®) Robert W. Haley is committed to helping guide Lynchburg seniors and their loved ones about the best options for planning ahead for dementia. Book a call with his office today to ensure your loved one has the needed documents in place to prevent guardianship when possible and ensure long-term care options are in place.