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Estate Planning After a Dementia Diagnosis: Protecting Assets and Securing the Future

Posted by Daniel J. Eccher, Esq. | Sep 15, 2023

The silver lining in a dementia diagnosis is that it emphasizes the importance of living life as fully as possible now. The uncertainty over how the disease will progress also highlights the urgency of planning for the future. As you journey forward, taking this step can help you and your loved ones feel more in control.

Easing the Path Toward Estate Planning 

Dementia symptoms include memory loss, trouble speaking, disorientation, and mood swings. Depending on the severity of the disease, consider the right approach. You or the one you love with dementia might need time to process the news. Either way, the diagnosis doesn't prevent you from creating a legally binding estate plan.

Concerns over potential legal challenges and outside influence could cast doubt over the dementia patient's capacity to plan, or, more specifically, "testamentary capacity." The definition of testamentary capacity varies by state. Generally, to have testamentary capacity, you need to have the ability to know: (1) what you have for property; (2) who your natural heirs would be upon your death; (3) how your will would distribute your assets; and (4) the ability to connect all of these elements in a coherent plan. 

For a new diagnosis with minor symptoms, focus on planning while the person affected can still think for themselves. If the stage of dementia is more advanced, prepare as soon as possible.

Taking Stock: Accounting for and Inventorying Assets for an Estate Plan

If it's necessary, tally legal and financial documents. List any assets and debts. Update any existing plans, such as a will, insurance or retirement account beneficiaries, etc. 

Before you create an estate plan, choose decision-makers or agents under powers of attorney for legal and financial decisions. Under a durable power of attorney and an advance health-care directive, you legally authorize others to act for you or a loved one with dementia over those matters.

The basic point of an estate plan is to lay a roadmap for how you want your assets, such as money and personal property, distributed through a will or trust. With the potential decline in capacity over time, long-term care planning is also essential. Based on the assets, an experienced attorney may clarify long-term care planning and help decide if a will or a trust is necessary. 
The Route Forward After a Dementia Diagnosis

The challenges of living with dementia underscore the need for empathy and understanding. The sooner you plan, the faster you may fully support your loved one on their journey. 

As the disease progresses, regular estate plan updates also become crucial. Beyond an attorney, keep your financial advisers and health-care professionals informed.

Without the advice of an attorney who knows the way, your road to an estate plan after a dementia diagnosis could be rocky. With legal guidance, you relieve the burden of going alone. We would be happy to help. Contact us online or call (207) 377-3966 today.

About the Author

Daniel J. Eccher, Esq.

Daniel J. Eccher, Esq. is the Managing Shareholder at Levey, Wagley, Putman & Eccher, P.A., in Winthrop, Maine. Dan's favorite problem to solve is helping clients figure out how to afford long-term care while having something left for their family.

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