World Alzheimer’s Day is Friday 21 September, an opportunity to raise awareness of the illness. We frequently hear that the UK has an ageing population, so it is increasingly important that we all look at our own circumstances.
Early planning can make all the difference, should there come a time when you are not able to make decisions for yourself.
Questions to ask yourself
Powers of attorney
Who would look after your or your parents’ financial matters should you or they lose capacity?
What about your or your parents’ welfare?
It is a common misconception that your partner or children would automatically be able to act on your behalf should you lose capacity but this is simply not the case. It is extremely important to plan early and we recommend that all of our clients arrange to have a power of attorney put in place.
What would happen (or what would you want to happen) to your estate if you passed away?
Do you have a will? Is it up to date?
If the answer to either of these is no, your assets may not end up where you would want or expect them to, and there are some common misconceptions that people have about wills and intestacy.
Having a will is extremely important in terms of stating what you want to happen to your assets. There can also be other important planning provisions put in place that cover the likes of tax and future care home costs.
Do you have strong views on particular treatment?
Is there certain treatment you would refuse?
How would you make your family or medical professionals aware of your views?
An advance statement allows individuals who have a mental disorder or illness (including dementia, a learning disability or a personality disorder) to influence how they would like to be treated if, at a later date, they can no longer make decisions for themselves. Advance statements let you set out your preferences, wishes, beliefs and values for your future care, and can cover aspects such as religious or spiritual beliefs and where you would like to be cared for.
Similarly, an advance directive (sometimes known as a “living will”) is a statement of your wishes as to what treatment should or should not be given to you in certain circumstances. It would usually indicate that your life is not to be artificially prolonged if you are unconscious and there is no reasonable prospect of recovery. This can be helpful to doctors or your welfare attorney when they are deciding what to do.
Both of these can potentially remove a huge burden for your loved ones in deciding what is best for you.
What to do now?
An important note: to have any of the above documents prepared, you must have ‘legal capacity’ at the time of signing the document, meaning that you must be able to understand, remember and use information in making decisions about your life.
Having dementia does not automatically mean that you are deemed to not have capacity, as it is a question of degree in the particular circumstances, but given the nature of the illness there may come a time when you are unable to make decisions. Again we stress that, in terms of the legal aspects, the key is to plan ahead.
Of course, it can be difficult to broach these subjects with loved ones and it’s something we would rather put to the back of our minds. However, it can save a huge amount of worry, expense and emotional angst by thinking about these matters early on and getting your affairs in order. Making plans not only gives you the reassurance that your wishes are heard and allows you to retain an element of control over your affairs, but can also help your family and friends during an already difficult time.