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Legal Planning and Your Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

  January 06, 2019

By Hannah White, Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter

After receiving an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, it is important to start planning for your future. It is normal to feel overwhelmed by the details of legal planning, and some elements may not apply to your situation. However, you need to have conversations with your care partner or family members about the legal plans you would like in place.

Creating a plan for your future in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease can be empowering, and you can ensure your wishes are met. The sooner you establish your legal plans, the better prepared you and your family will be.

Legal planning should include the following actions:
  • Taking inventory of existing legal documents, reviewing, and making necessary updates
  • Making legal plans for finances and property
  • Putting plans in place for enacting your future health care and long-term care preferences
  • Naming another person to make decisions on your behalf when you no longer can
Legal capacity
During the legal planning process, you may hear the term “legal capacity” as it pertains to your ability to execute (put in place by signing) a legal document. Legal capacity is the ability to understand and appreciate the consequences of one’s actions and to make rational decisions. This term is important to understand because it does have an effect in later stages of the disease when some important care issues emerge.

Legal capacity requirements can vary from one legal document to another. A lawyer can help determine what level of legal capacity is required for a person to sign a particular document. Creating a legal document does not imply that your rights are immediately revoked. The legal forms that you complete now will not be implemented until you legally no longer have the capacity to make decisions.

Legal documents
Legal documents help ensure your wishes are followed as the disease progresses and make it possible for others to make decisions on your behalf when you no longer can. Once legal documents are filled out, distribute copies to your care team, including your care partner, spouse, attorney, and physicians.

Power of attorney
The power of attorney document allows you to name another individual to make financial and other decisions when you are no longer able. A successor agent or agents should also be named in case the original agent you choose is unavailable or unwilling to serve. Power of attorney does not give the person you appoint the authority to override your decision making. You maintain the right to make your own decisions, as long as you have legal capacity.

Power of attorney for health care
A power of attorney for health care allows you to name a health care agent to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able.

Health decisions covered by the power of attorney for health care include the following:
  • Doctors and other health care providers
  • Types of treatments
  • Care facilities
  • End-of-life care decisions, such as the use of feeding tubes
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) orders
Discuss your wishes regarding care with your chosen agent early and often to make sure that this person understands your wishes and is willing and able to act on your behalf when the times comes.

Durable power of attorney for finances/property
A durable power of attorney for finances/property allows you to designate another person to make decisions about your finances, such as income, assets, and investments, when you can longer do so.

Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)
POLST is a standardized medical order form that indicates the specific types of life-sustaining treatment you do or do not want if seriously ill. POLST is a physician order and must be completed and signed by your physician. As a physician order, it is placed in your medical record. Emergency personnel, such as paramedics, EMTs, and ER physicians, must follow these orders. POLST complements your advance directives and is not intended to replace it. POLST is not available in every state.

If you have any questions on legal planning, you can call our Free 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 or meet with a Care Navigator at your local Illinois Chapter office, located at 614 W. Glen Ave. in Peoria.
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January 06, 2019


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