Do not put off preparing for incapacity in your estate plan

Alzheimer’s disease affects about 5 million people age 65 and older nationwide, according to estimates from the Alzheimer’s Association. Over the next 35 years or so, some estimates predict that number will triple as the elderly population in the United States continues to increase. Meanwhile, studies repeatedly show that fewer than half of all Americans have any sort of estate plan in place, and even fewer have a living will or health care directive. Unfortunately, especially when coupled with a debilitating disease like Alzheimer’s, a lack of estate planning can be disastrous for both the afflicted individual and his or her loved ones.

Planning for an incapacitating disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia is an important part of estate planning, but it is often overlooked and all too easy to put off. However, because mental capacity is required for an estate plan to be legally enforceable, it is often too late to put a plan in place once the disease has struck. Thus, advance planning is critical when it comes to ensuring that your wishes are known and carried out with regard to the handling of your affairs if you should lose the capacity to make important decisions for yourself.

Different planning tools serve different purposes

When it comes to planning for incapacity and end-of-life care, there are a few different tools that exist to help you make sure your wishes are thoroughly communicated and carried out as effectively as possible. Perhaps the most familiar among these is the living will, which is more formally known in California as an advance health care directive.

A living will is a document that communicates your health care preferences to your medical providers and loved ones. It can include details about specific treatments or procedures that you do or do not wish to undergo, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, intubation or artificial respiration. Addressing these issues in advance not only gives you greater control over your own care and quality of life in the event of you become incapacitated, but it also spares your loved ones the difficult and often divisive task of having to guess at what your wishes might be.

Another important estate planning tool, which works in conjunction with your living will, is called medical power of attorney. A medical power of attorney gives another person the authority to make important decisions about your health and medical care if you can no longer make those decisions for yourself. This person is sometimes referred to as a health care proxy.

Even if you have a living will, it is still wise to name a health care proxy in your estate plan since it is impossible to plan for every conceivable scenario. An attorney-prepared advance health care directive can set out your personal wishes similar to a living will and also appoint someone to make health decisions if you are unable to make them yourself.

A similar document called a durable power of attorney gives another person the authority to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. This allows you to name a trusted individual to take over important tasks such as filing your taxes, dealing with the Social Security Administration and managing your bank accounts and other assets.

Get legal help for your estate planning needs

For assistance planning your own end-of-life care, or for answers to your questions about other estate planning matters in California, contact the Law Offices of Yacoba Ann Feldman.