In a recent study conducted by UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, it was estimated that the number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease will more than double by the year 2060. The study indicated that about 5.7 million Americans will have at least mild cognitive impairment and another 9.3 million will have dementia due to Alzheimer’s by that time. What is even more concerning is that of the latter group, it is further estimated that about 4 million Americans will need an intensive level of care similar to that provided by nursing homes. As this trend continues it is obvious that not only will this take a huge mental and physical toll on families, it will also be cause for potential financial doom for many affected by this terrible disease.
As an Elder Law attorney, I of course worry about the future mental competence of seniors. We want to make certain that we have the proper planning documents in place that will enable them to leave their assets to designated beneficiaries when and how they choose. We want to eliminate potential fights and disagreements over inheritances. Having a Will in place to resolve these issues is definitely important.
However, as I tell all my clients, I am more concerned with what happens to you when you are alive! Wills are documents that spell out what happens following death. So, what else do you need? Well, "advanced directives" are vital documents for planning purposes. A Power of Attorney for Property (POAP) will appoint people who you wish to make legal and financial decisions for you should you ever be unable to do so. But not all POAP's are the same! An experienced Elder Law attorney can provide you with guidance as to what might be needed for seniors and draw up a document that will anticipate the future needs of the elderly and provide for the gifting of assets and other serious concerns not covered in standard run of the mill documents. A Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA) will appoint someone to make important medical decisions for you in the future and a Living Will can spell out your preferred end-of-life decisions, including directions about life support and resuscitation. Various types of trusts may also be used for both financial planning as well, because you name trustees who will manage your trust assets you are incapacitated.
No one want to think about what happens if they have a disability later in life (or even about the same thing happening to a parent or other loved one). But failing to plan for this could result in a court having to decide what happens to you. You may end up subject to a guardianship proceeding and these can be extremely costly and, all too often, clients complain to me about the invasion of privacy as well. With the rising incidence of cognitive disease predicted this planning effort becomes more crucial than ever. Don't underestimate the importance of putting in place "insurance" that your finances and health issues will be controlled in the manner that you desire! Don't let a court make those critical decisions for you.