Gena Rowlands’s Alzheimer’s Disease Highlights Importance of Estate Planning Before Cognitive Decline

(Find Law) - Life imitates art in the recent announcement of Gena Rowlands’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The honorary Oscar award-winning actress played the role of Allie Calhoun, a woman who has Alzheimer’s Disease, in the 2004 tearjerker movie, “The Notebook.”

Rowlands’s son, Nick Cassavetes, who was also the film’s director, told Entertainment Weekly that she has been battling the disease for the past five years. Unfortunately, at this stage, she has full dementia.

Many adults face Alzheimer’s Disease or other cognitive decline as they age. That is especially why it is critical to plan for future incapacity now before it is too late. Incapacity means you are unable to manage your own financial, legal, and healthcare decisions.

Why Estate Planning Is Important

Estate planning is critical to protecting you, your family, and your property and assets in the event of incapacity or death. Read on to learn just a few of the primary benefits.

Maintain Control Over Your Health and Assets

If you are incapacitated and can no longer handle your own affairs, your family must petition a court for a conservatorship. The court appoints a conservator to make decisions on your behalf. A conservatorship is a long and expensive process. However, if you have a power of attorney and a health care directive, you can avoid the need for a conservatorship. Plus, you choose who can make decisions for you and not leave it up to the court’s discretion.

Jay Leno recently filed for conservatorship of his wife, who has dementia. If she had an estate plan in place, he would not need to involve the California court system.

durable power of attorney is a legal document where you name an agent to make your legal and financial decisions even when you are incapacitated. You choose someone you trust to handle bill paying, continue family support, and manage your property and assets.

health care directive is a legal document, sometimes referred to as a living will or advance medical directive. In a health care directive, you name someone to serve as your health care agent or surrogate. You authorize your agent to receive your medical information, speak with healthcare professionals, and make decisions regarding your medical care. You can also give specific instructions on what life-prolonging measures you want if you are in an end-stage or permanent vegetative state.

Protect Your Loved Ones

By naming agents for your medical and financial decisions, you have people to help maintain your family’s lifestyle and financial stability if you are incapacitated during your life.

Another critical estate planning document to have is a will. A will ensures your wishes are honored and avoids disputes among family members. In your will, you name who you want to manage your property and assets, who should receive your property and assets, and who should care for your minor children. If you die without a will, called intestate, a court follows state law to distribute your property and decides who should have custody of your children. You may not want to leave these decisions up to a court that does not understand your family dynamics.

Protect Against Fraud and Reduce Taxes

You are the best person to choose who will represent your interests in your legal, financial, and medical affairs. You want someone who you trust with your money and your life. Some people can be taken advantage of by family or acquaintances, who get a power of attorney and then use the money for themselves. A power of attorney is a shield against financial abuse and potential scammers.

Additionally, as you start the estate planning process, you can plan to reduce estate taxes and attorney fees.

Why You Should Make Your Estate Plan Now

To make a valid power of attorney or health care directive, you must be an adult and mentally competent. The test for mental capacity is if you are aware of what you are signing and the implications (benefits and risks) of what you are agreeing to.

Before you make a will, you must have testamentary capacity, which means you know what property you have, who your natural beneficiaries are, and how a will disposes of your property.

Alzheimer’s Disease is on the rise. Almost 7 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease, and the Alzheimer’s Association predicts that number will increase to 13 million by 2050. You want to make sure you get your estate planning in order before any memory loss or cognitive difficulties.  In addition to making your estate planning documents valid, it avoids future challenges that you did not have the requisite mental capacity.

Gena Rowlands’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease underscores the need for early estate planning to protect your loved ones and maintain your control over your health and assets. A durable power of attorney, health care directive, and a will ensures your wishes are followed and avoids time and money spent in court. It is easy to get your estate planning done either through an estate planning attorney or by using online estate planning forms.

By Catherine Hodder, Esq.
Reviewed by Joseph Fawbush, Esq.


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