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Estate planning for the 'long goodbye' of dementia

Living with the knowledge that you have Alzheimer's or other type of dementia or caring for someone who does can be frightening, overwhelming and depressing. Alzheimer's been referred to as the "long goodbye" because people often slowly lose cognitive functions and the ability to recognize loved ones over an extended period.

The good news is that medical advancements have been able to slow the rate of cognitive decline in some people suffering from dementia. This means they can enjoy their family and friends for longer than they otherwise might be able to.

It also means that they can take steps to do some planning and codify their wishes for the time when they're no longer able to make decisions for themselves. As the head of one patient advocacy group says, "Most people diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's have a window of capacity where they can still make legal documents and consider their future."

It's crucial, for example, to put a health care directive in place. You can detail things like whether you want to try experimental treatments as the disease progresses, what life-saving or life-sustaining measures you want taken and what you'd like your end-of-life care to be. Do you want to remain in the hospital or be moved to hospice care or back home?

You can designate whether you want professional caregivers as your disease progresses to ease the burden on your family. If so, you can set aside money to cover the costs.

You can also designate at what point you want the people you authorize as powers of attorney to take over responsibility for your finances and health care management. Obviously, you need to give these authorities to responsible, trustworthy people.

By taking these steps and detailing your wishes while you're still able to, you're helping prevent family battles over what they believe you would have wanted. This can ease what will no doubt be a painful time for them.

If you already have an estate plan in place, you may only need to make some minor additions and modifications to plan for the advancement of dementia. If you don't have an estate plan, now's the time to put one in place. An experienced Missouri estate planning attorney will help you develop a plan that best suits you and your family.

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