September is World Alzheimer's month and today (21 September) is World Alzheimer's Day. This month is the 10th anniversary of this international campaign which aims to raise awareness and challenge the stigma associated with a diagnosis of dementia.
As solicitors we are often asked to advise people on what they can do to safeguard their affairs in the event of receiving a diagnosis like dementia. Unfortunately, we can sometimes be asked to assist too late, and it is not possible to act on instructions because the person's condition has advanced to a point where they are no longer able to make those sorts of decisions.
There are two things you can do to help to future-proof your legal affairs and ensure that you have done what you can to provide for the scenario where you receive a diagnosis of dementia.
Firstly, you can ensure your will is up to date today - legally, you can only make or change your will if you have the mental capacity to do so. You can provide for the various different scenarios that may exist depending on the situation at the time of your death whether that be the size or nature of your family or estate. For example, you can provide for whom you would wish your estate to pass to in the event that your first choice of beneficiary were to predecease you, and/or for certain bequests to be made only in the event that the total value of your estate exceeds a certain limit. By ensuring that your will is well-drafted and provides for the various possible scenarios that could be imagined, you can help to ensure that your will remains fit for purpose, even if you were to lose the ability to update that as your circumstances change in the future.
Secondly, you can grant a power of attorney to ensure the people you choose have the power to make the decisions about you and your affairs in the event you were to become unable to - you should consider who you would want to be responsible for making decisions about your financial and welfare affairs in the event you were to lose the ability to make those decisions for yourself and safeguard your own affairs, and then grant a Power of Attorney.
Like a will, a Power of Attorney can only be granted if a doctor or a lawyer considers that you have the mental capacity to grant one and therefore, just like insurance, it is important to put the power of attorney in place long before you contemplate needing it. In the event that somebody loses the ability to grant a Power of Attorney and has not granted one before, it can be necessary for family members to apply for powers to look after them through the courts - a costly and time consuming process at what is likely to be a stressful time. Hopefully your Power of Attorney will gather dust and never be required, but it can be invaluable if it is required.