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World Alzheimer's Month is the international campaign every September to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia. World Alzheimer's Day is on 21 September each year.

2 out of every 3 people globally believe there is little or no understanding of dementia in their countries. The impact of World Alzheimer's Month is growing, but the stigmatisation and misinformation that surrounds dementia remains a global problem that requires global action.

One of the goals of the campaign is to encourage people to take action to improve the lives of those affected by dementia. One such way is giving them the peace of mind and security that their legal affairs are up to date and that their wishes have been validly expressed.

One of the myths surrounding a diagnosis of dementia is that it is too late to do anything about your legal affairs. More often than not this is not the case and many adults with a diagnosis of dementia still have capacity to make decisions about their legal affairs.

Sometimes people don’t take action in relation to planning for the future as they feel the subject is too sensitive to broach. Families of dementia sufferers who don’t have the conversation with their loved one about planning for future events, often as they feel it would be awkward, can later regret not having had that conversation.

There are 3 essential documents that every Adult should have:-

A Will

Having a Will is a good thing. You can decide who inherits your property and other assets as well as who attends to your affairs on your death. It’s quicker and cheaper to deal with an estate where there was a valid Will in place and a properly drafted Will can save or minimise tax. If you do not have a Will, the law decides who inherits your property and assets and who winds up your estate. It is more costly and time consuming and someone you may not wish to inherit from you may do so. There is also little to no chance of saving tax.

A Power of Attorney

Having a Power of Attorney in place can allow a person of your choosing to help you with decisions or to act on your behalf in relation to your financial and medical needs once you are no longer able. Your attorney should be someone you know and trust. Matters can be dealt with more quickly than when there is no Power of Attorney in place and the costs are minimal. If you do not have a Power of Attorney in place and you are unable to make decisions for yourself, a court action is needed to appoint someone as your Guardian. This is a costly and lengthy process and the person appointed may not be someone whom you would have chosen. In the absence of a family member being appointed, a stranger from the local authority may make decisions on your behalf.

An Advance Medical Directive

Having an Advance Medical Directive (AMD) in place lets your Doctors and Family know your wishes in relation to a specific set of future healthcare circumstances. By making this statement in advance, you remove the burden from the shoulders of your family/ attorney at a later date. This can avoid family arguments or feelings of guilt at a desperate time and doctors can prepare a plan for you as they are aware of your wishes. If you do not have an AMD in place, you pass the burden of these medical decisions to others and you could be kept alive indefinitely in a vegetative state as nobody knows your wishes. You can also make provision for organ donation in your AMD.

Other things to consider

In additional to these 3 essential documents, it may also be useful to seek advice in relation to Care costs mitigation, including (but not limited to) the use of Trusts or Equity release.

Carers and loved ones

A final reminder, it’s not just those with dementia who would benefit from personal planning for later life, often carers will also require to make or update Wills and Powers of Attorney and to put in place an Advance Medical Directive if they do not have one.

What about where there is no capacity?

In the circumstances where the adult no longer has capacity to give instructions, they will not be able to make a Power of Attorney or advance medical directive, however a guardianship application can be made on their behalf. A Guardianship is where a court appoints someone to deal with the adult’s affairs on their behalf, similar to the powers given under a Power of Attorney. One of the powers the Guardian can seek is to make a Will on behalf of the adult. It is therefore never too late to take steps to deal with a person’s legal and financial affairs, even where they have lost capacity.

Thompsons Wills and Personal Planning Department have a Solicitor lead team who specialise in advising older and vulnerable clients as their legal, financial and care needs change. We are members of Solicitors for Older People Scotland and Shona Geddes is a member of Solicitors for the Elderly. The entire team has completed Dementia Awareness Training with Alzheimer Scotland – Action on Dementia and we abide by the Law Society of Scotland’s Vulnerable Clients Guidance.

Blog by Shona Geddes, Solicitor

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