Justin, I have talked to my mother for years about signing a will and power of attorney documents, but she was never interested in thinking about those types of things. Just last week, she received a diagnosis of dementia from her doctor. I assume it’s too late to plan her estate now—what do we do? – Pam
Pam, I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s diagnosis, but I may have some good news for you. Simply having a dementia diagnosis does not necessarily preclude your mother from signing estate planning documents. The medical standard for finding that a person has dementia is different from the legal standard for having capacity to sign legal documents.
In a nutshell, to sign legal documents like a will or a power of attorney, your mother must simply understand what she’s doing at the time she’s doing it. For example, one of the biggest problems faced by a person with dementia is weak short-term memory. But just because a person suffers with memory issues doesn’t mean that person can’t understand the importance of the legal documents in front of her or that she may not have legal capacity to sign them.
You were right to talk to your mother about the importance of planning her estate, but you may have jumped to the wrong conclusion in thinking she can no longer sign legal documents just because of her recent diagnosis. Maybe it’s not too late for her to plan.
Now that she has this diagnosis, however, it sounds like you need to think about more than just basic estate planning. It is now important for you to consider long-term care planning in addition to the basic estate planning you mentioned in your question. Next week, I’ll explain what I mean about long-term care planning.