September 21st is World Alzheimer’s day, sponsored by Alzheimer’s Disease International, to raise awareness and challenge the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Currently, an estimated five-million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, yet its symptoms may be often dismissed as a natural part of aging. Did you know that, when this happens, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be delayed until the disease has progressed to severe cognitive impairment, which raises the question of whether an Alzheimer’s patient can sign legal documents?
Whether a person possesses the legal capacity required to execute legal documents can be a complex analysis. The legal requirements for capacity are governed by state law and vary, but generally include the following criteria:
Orientation to self and family members;
Understanding of the composition of his or her estate; and
Understanding of the legal actions he or she is taking, as well as, the possible consequences of these actions
The fact that a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s does not necessarily mean that legal capacity is lacking. There are various stages of dementia, and a person may meet the legal requirements of capacity, especially in the earlier stages of the disease.
Inevitably, the disease will progress, and an Alzheimer’s patient will likely have diminished legal capacity. Due to impending diminished legal capacity, it can be vital to have important financial and legal conversations early on and to execute any necessary legal documents. Legal planning can be a good way to preserve a measure of dignity for an Alzheimer’s patient facing the uncertainty of what his or her future will look like. It can be a great comfort to participate in the legal planning, and helping to ensure wishes are honored in terms of the medical care he or she receives and how his or her estate is handled, both during the illness and after death. It can also be important to do some asset protection planning in anticipation of the high medical costs associated with Alzheimer’s care and treatment.
If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, contacting our office early can be a significant step to conduct legal planning before capacity is diminished. We are here to help you and your loved ones set up legal protections for what can be a difficult future. Contact us today.