Q. My father is becoming very forgetful about things he would normally remember. I’m worried he could be coming down with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. What should I do?
A. An obvious first step is to have Dad checked out by a qualified physician. The doctor can determine what, if anything is actually wrong and recommend treatment. If the doctor’s diagnosis is dementia further legal steps to provide Dad with adequate legal protections are necessary.
It is important to have the doctor spell out, as clearly as possible; exactly what Dad is capable of doing from a decision-making standpoint when the diagnosis is made. For example, can Dad identify and understand the extent of the property he owns and who his heirs are? Is he capable of understanding the nature of a transaction sufficient to enter into a contract? Can he identify those who he trusts enough to manage his affairs in order to authorize them to do so?
If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes” then it is imperative to consult an elder and estate planning attorney in order to put Dad’s legal affairs in order with documents such as Powers of Attorney for financial and medical affairs, wills, trusts, and any other documents which apply to his particular circumstances. By doing this, we can keep Dad’s life private and reduce legal fees and court costs.
If the answer to the any of those questions is “no” it may be necessary to go into probate court and petition for a Guardianship and Conservatorship in order to take over management of Dad’s personal and financial affairs. This is an expensive, public process that requires ongoing court supervision. This scenario will often occur once a dementia patient progresses to later stages and no longer has the capacity to enter into legal documents that would eliminate the need for a guardianship or conservatorship. This is another reason for consulting a physician and an elder and estate planning attorney as early as possible. It is strongly recommended to have legal documents in place that provide others with authority to act on one’s behalf well before dementia or any other incapacitating condition rears its ugly head.
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