How Do I Prepare my Parents for Alzheimer’s?

Can your mom just sell her house, despite her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s?

The (Bryan TX) Eagle reports in the recent article “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents” that the concept of “mental capacity” is complicated. There’s considerable confusion about incapacity. The article explains that different legal documents have a different degree of required capacity. The bar for signing a Power of Attorney, a Warranty Deed, a Contract, a Divorce Decree, or a Settlement Agreement is a little lower than for signing a Will. The individual signing legal documents must be capable of understanding and appreciating what he or she is signing, as well as the effect of the document.

The answer the question of whether the mom can sign the deed to her house over to the buyer.  is likely “yes.” She must understand that she’s selling her house, and that, once the document is signed, the house will belong to someone else. A terminal diagnosis or a neurodegenerative disease doesn’t automatically mean that an individual can’t sign legal documents. A case-by-case assessment is required to see if the document will be valid.

The fact that a person is unable to write his or her name doesn’t mean they lack capacity. If a senior can’t sign her name (possibly due to tremors or neurodegeneration), she can sign with an “X”. She could place her hand on top of someone else’s and allow the other person to sign her name. If this is completed before witnesses and the notary, that would be legal.

A hard part of Alzheimer’s is that a person’s mental clarity can come and go. Capacity can be fluid in the progress of a neurodegenerative or other terminal disease. Because of this, the best time to sign critical documents is sooner rather than later. No one can say the “window of capacity” will remain open for a certain amount of time.

Some signs should prompt you to move more quickly. These include things like the following:

  • Short-term memory loss;
  • Personality changes (e.g., unusual anger);
  • Confusing up or forgetting common-usage words and names; and
  • Disorientation and changes in depth perception.

Any of the signs above could be caused by dementia or many other problems. Talk to your parent’s physician and an elder law attorney. He or she can discuss the options, document your parent’s legal capacity, and get the right documents drafted quickly.

Reference: The (Bryan TX) Eagle (February 7, 2019) “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents”

How Do We Live Our Lives When A Loved One Has Alzheimer’s?

The scenario is worrisome, as no one can be sure that this is something B. Smith would have wanted, if she had been asked before the disease had progressed. However, one good thing has come out of it, according to the article “B. Smith’s Alzheimer’s raises question: How to protect your wishes when incapacitated” from USA Today. There are more discussions about expressing people’s wishes, before they become incapacitated from Alzheimer’s.

More families are experiencing this very same dilemma because of the increasing number of Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. More than 5.7 million in this country are suffering from this disease, which currently has no cure and is most likely to impact seniors, women and African Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Without advance planning, it’s impossible to know what someone would want to happen. Discussing this is critical, while a patient is still relatively healthy and able to communicate her wishes to family members and to an estate planning attorney.

People who work in this area say there are two areas that must be addressed. One is drafting legal documents with an experienced estate attorney to determine who should be entrusted with health care and financial decisions. There is also a need for document known as a “statement of values” that will help family members understand goals and wishes and not be left guessing.

These decisions are not easy to consider when a person is still well. However, thinking about them and putting them down on paper, and then having the necessary documents prepared to formalize them and make them enforceable are important.

Here are the documents needed:

Durable power of attorney: This lets a trusted family or friend make financial decisions, in the event of incapacity.

Power of attorney for health care: This document permits a family member or friend to make decisions about health care decisions.

A will. The will is for the disposition of assets after your death. It also names the person who will be in charge, the executor.

A revocable trust. This is one of many documents that can be used to allow you to set conditions and directions about assets, while you are still living but when you have become incapacitated. It can be changed at your direction. Hence, the term revocable. An estate planning attorney will know what type of trust should be used for your situation.

Only four out of 10 Americans have wills, with many hesitating to have them created because they think that only rich people need a will. However, without a will, or the other documents described above, the family is left in a terrible situation, where there will be additional costs, if and when decisions need to be made but no one has been legally empowered to make the decisions.

The revocable trust could bypass many unpleasant situations, like instructing a power of attorney to place your assets in a trust that was set up specifically to pay for your care in a skilled nursing facility of your choice, or to describe with great specificity who was allowed to live in your home, if you became incapacitated.

Another missing step: the family discussion. Getting everyone together to discuss planning for the future, isn’t as fun as going on a family vacation, but it is important. If someone is starting to have the effects of dementia, they may not remember what they told another family member. With everyone in the same room, there will be a better chance that their wishes will be clear.

The moment someone learns that they have dementia, is the time to put all these elements into place, before it is too late.

Reference: USA Today (Jan. 31, 2019) “B. Smith’s Alzheimer’s raises question: How to protect your wishes when incapacitated”