Friday, February 20, 2009

Alzheimer's Disease - Legal Issues to Consider

When a person close to you is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, a host of issues have to be dealt with immediately and in the future. One area that needs to be looked at closely involves the legal issues that arise.

To say the field of law is complex is a minor understatement. That being said, there is one concept that is runs through much of law that is fairly easy to grasp. The concept is know as "capacity." It refers to a person's ability to make a decision. For instance, a person under the age of majority is automatically considered to be incapable of forming a contract in most states. The reason is they are considered to have an insufficient capacity to determine whether entering a contract is a good move. This is why 13 year old cannot buy guns.

I am discussing the concept of capacity because it is central to any diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. All to often, people will drag their feet on making legal decisions and executing legal documents because Alzheimer's tends to progress slowly. This is a mistake because Alzheimer's is a disease that attacks the brain and any such disease automatically raises the issue of whether a person has sufficient mental capacity to enter legal agreements.

For instance, a court might find a person diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease who waited five years to form a durable power of attorney did not have the capacity to do so. The court would then terminate the power of attorney and assign a court guardian to make the decisions. Do you really want that to happen?

When a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, a lawyer should be retained immediately. The legal documents that should be discussed with that attorney include a durable power of attorney for financial decisions, a durable power of attorney for health decisions, the creation or modification of a trust, the creation or modification of a will and the creation of a living will. Each of these legal documents is a complex subject, but all are useless if the person diagnosed is rendered incapable of forming them.

In short, you need to act quickly or you might end up with a judge making decisions for you and your family. I can't think of any family that would want that to occur.

Alex Jensen is with - a free senior housing placement service in Southern California for Alzheimer's patients.

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