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What to do when a relative without a will has signs of dementia

We have spoken before about how powers of attorney can allow loved ones to care for people who have been mentally incapacitated by illness or injury. Another form of power of attorney empowers a person to handle the incapacitated person’s financial affairs; it is also possible to have power of attorney over both the person’s finances and medical decisions.

You can designate who you want to have health care and financial power of attorney over you, in the event of a medical emergency or serious illness. A guardianship may also be appropriate. However, some people are in the early stages of dementia. They are still able to care for themselves and make financial decisions to a certain extent, but their condition is likely to grow worse in the next few years, if not months. What can you do if an aging parent with diminishing mental capacity does not have an estate plan, but you may not be able to obtain power of attorney or a guardianship?

It may take a lot of patience, but it is possible to convince an older relative to finally put together an estate plan, even when their ability to discuss such matters is diminished. You may have to bring it up several times, and address their concerns over and over until they are convinced.

The stakes could be high, especially if the loved one has significant assets. In one example, a man owned the farm he shared with his son and daughter-in-law. He did not formal plans for the farm in a will or trust. When the son and daughter-in-law asked him about it, he told them he had a plan, but he would not say what it was and had not written it down anywhere.

Later on, the couple noticed the man showing signs of dementia, such as repeating himself and acting reclusive. If he dies without establishing an estate plan, the results could be needlessly expensive and difficult.

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