People with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease may retain the capacity to make decisions about legal and healthcare matters as the symptoms of the disease worsen. They may often be able to communicate their wishes to caregivers and others. But because the course of Alzheimer's disease can vary widely, the best time to begin thinking about the future is as soon after diagnosis as possible.
Soon after diagnosis, people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers should:
- Start discussing future needs together.
- Meet together with an attorney who specializes in elder care and can outline all the issues to consider.
- Together, seek an attorney's advice about whether or not to create legally binding documents.
There are many issues to think about and decisions to make. Of course, each person's options and choices are different. The following are a few things that you can begin to think about together.
The person with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease and the caregiver should talk to an attorney about whether or not they should have healthcare advance directives. Advance directives is an umbrella term for several different types of documents. These documents speak for you at a time when you cannot speak for yourself. With advance directives, you can give instructions about the kind of healthcare you want. You may designate someone to make healthcare decisions for you. You can also give instructions about the kind of healthcare interventions you do and do not want.
Power of Attorney
A general power of attorney gives one person the power to act on behalf of another. The document can give broad powers ("manage all my affairs") or specific ones ("manage only the sale of my home").
A healthcare power of attorney is more limited, because the designated person is empowered to make decisions regarding healthcare only.
When someone has a durable power of attorney or a durable healthcare power of attorney, he or she has the right to make decisions throughout the person's illness. If a power of attorney is not durable, it may expire when the person becomes unable to make or communicate decisions. Be sure to speak to an attorney about which document is right for you.
Living Will, Living Trust, and Will
A living will expresses end-of-life wishes regarding use of life-sustaining treatments. It becomes effective only when the person can no longer make decisions or convey them to others.
A living trust designates who will manage assets once the person is no longer able to manage finances. It also specifies how the assets will be distributed upon death.
A will only describes how the assets will be distributed upon death.