One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or dementia, so chances are you, your spouse, or a parent will develop Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia as you grow older. It’s tough to think about, but you don’t want to miss a window of opportunity to deal with certain issues that are best managed while someone is still legally competent to do so.
The best way to plan for your own end of life wishes is by having two important documents in place: an advance healthcare directive and a durable power of attorney.
- An advance healthcare directive documents your end of life wishes and empowers one or more people to make healthcare decisions on your behalf while you are alive.
- A durable general power of attorney is similar to a healthcare directive, but is focused on financial decisions.
When do you need the directive and power of attorney?
Don’t wait until you think you or your loved one is “old enough.” You have a window of opportunity before that point that you don’t want to miss. Look for signs of changing mental capacity such as leaving a burner on, wearing the same clothes every day, or getting confused about schedules. Generally, person/place/time orientation issues are a red flag.
The sooner you begin talking and planning, the easier it will be for everyone involved. Discuss your plans with your family so everyone is on the same page. There are lots of resources online for initiating conversations about aging and dying.
Who should you name?
When thinking about who you should name, consider the people in your life who know you well, are familiar with your wishes, and are in the best position to advocate for you – both in the healthcare environment and with your finances. It’s important to talk this through with the people who you plan to name in your healthcare directive and power of attorney. Don’t name anyone unless you’ve asked them if they are willing to serve.
What if you don’t have these documents?
If you or your loved one loses the mental capacity to make decisions and there’s not an advance healthcare directive or durable general power of attorney in place, a court may need to be involved in guardianship and conservatorship proceedings.
These proceedings are stressful, expensive, intrusive, public, and may not result in the outcome the aging person would have wanted if they had made the decision themselves. Having a healthcare directive and durable power of attorney helps avoid these unpleasant events.
Remember, you can always change your mind, but simply having a healthcare directive and durable power of attorney in place is an important first step as you age. For more information on steps to take as you get older, you may find our Estate Planning Basics blog post helpful.