3 Things To Do Right Away If Your Spouse Is Diagnosed With Alzheimer's
A diagnosis of Alzheimer's is devastating for both you and your spouse. It may take you both a while to really process the true implications of what you are likely to go through in the next few years (or even a decade or more in some cases). However, the time immediately following an Alzheimer's diagnosis is not just a time for preparing yourself emotionally. You also need to prepare yourselves legally, and you need to do this right away. There is usually a window of opportunity after the diagnosis when your spouse is still considered legally competent to sign legal documents. Therefore, you both should see an estate planning attorney together as soon as possible and do the following things:
1. Create a Power of Attorney
You will eventually need to make all of your spouse's legal decisions on their behalf. This is a lot easier to do if you have a signed power of attorney that your spouse agreed to when they were still legally able to do so. You won't automatically be granted decision making powers for your spouse just because they have Alzheimer's, so a power of attorney protects you both.
The power of attorney does not go into effect until the spouse with Alzheimer's becomes legally mentally incapacitated. Until then, the affected spouse can make their own legal decisions.
You should include a health care power of attorney with your main document, as well. This is a separate document that will give the unaffected spouse the right to make health care decisions for the affected one when the time comes.
2. Draw Up a Living Trust
This document allows your spouse to name a person (usually you) who will manage their money and property when they aren't able to do it on their own anymore. It will include your spouse's instructions for how they want these things to be handled. It is up to you, as the director of the trust, to see that those instructions are carried out to the letter.
3. Sign Medical Release Forms With All of Your Spouse's Doctors
Just because you're married doesn't mean you automatically get access to your spouse's medical records. Even with a power of attorney, this can be difficult. As soon as possible after the Alzheimer's diagnosis, go with your spouse to all of their doctors and have your spouse sign medical release forms.
These forms will allow your spouse's doctors to provide you with information on their medical care that may be crucial when admitting your spouse to a nursing home or assisted living facility later on, once the Alzheimer's has advanced.
An Alzheimer's diagnosis is devastating. It can also be a confusing time, as both you and your spouse try to enjoy the remaining time you have together and make preparations for the future. Talking to an estate planning attorney and drawing up the appropriate documents while your spouse is still able will give you both peace of mind. Talk to your attorney today.