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My mother has been diagnosed with dementia – what should I do?

Elderly care dementia holding hands with cane

NHS England estimates that around 850,000 people in the UK are currently living with dementia and research shows that this number could double by 2040. In fact, it is thought that 1 in 2 people will be affected by dementia in their lifetime – either developing it themselves, caring for someone with the condition, or both.

As these numbers grow, we are increasingly asked what steps the family should take to get their loved one’s affairs in order following a diagnosis. Whilst each case is different, here are five things to consider.

1. Consider the extent of the diagnosis

Dementia is a progressive condition and a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that someone has lost the mental capacity to make decisions and manage their affairs. In particular, you may notice that they are able to make straightforward decisions but may be increasingly forgetful or struggle to process more complex information.

Your loved one will need sufficient capacity if they want to make a new Will or review their existing Will, and also to make lasting powers of attorney. Our advice is to act in a timely manner to give your loved one the opportunity to organise their affairs and ensure you are aware of their wishes.

2. Is the Will up to date?

The first action point is to find out whether your loved one has a Will in place. If they do, where is the original stored, is it up to date and does it reflect their current wishes? If they need assistance to make or review their Will, a suitably-qualified solicitor will be able to assist.

After death, questions could arise as to the capacity of someone with dementia to make a Will. If this is a concern, whether due to the stage of the dementia or due to complex family dynamics, a formal testamentary capacity assessment can be undertaken to fend off any future challenges.

3. Are lasting powers of attorney in place to manage finances?

A Property and Financial Affairs lasting power of attorney (LPA) is a really useful document that allows you to appoint a trusted person or persons to help manage your affairs and to take over completely if you are no longer able to do so yourself. This LPA allows your attorneys to manage your bank accounts and pensions, pay bills, sign financial documents and manage any property that you own.

You should therefore consider as soon as possible whether this LPA has been made, whether it has been registered with the Office of the Public Guardian and where the original is kept. This is key to avoiding the time consuming and costly process of applying for a court appointed deputy were your loved one to lose capacity without any LPAs in place.

4. Are lasting powers of attorney in place for health and welfare?

You should also check whether an LPA for Health and Welfare is in place. The Health and Welfare LPA is an equally important but separate document that allows your attorneys to make health and care decisions on your behalf such as where you live and whether you should receive life-sustaining treatment.

The Health and Welfare LPA would only come into effect if your loved one were to lose mental capacity. It is therefore important to discuss their wishes with them in the early stages of dementia to ensure you know their wishes about such key decisions as where they should live and the care they would want to receive.

5. Find out their wishes and keep talking

The period after diagnosis is a good opportunity to talk with your loved one about how they want to be supported once their condition becomes more challenging. Take the time to ask about their wishes or encourage them to write notes of their own to ensure you know how they feel about key decisions you may need to make as an attorney and their preferences for funeral arrangements. These wishes may change over time so keep talking to ensure you feel able to act in their best interests when the time comes.

It is also a good idea to go through your loved one’s paperwork with them to ensure you are aware of all bank accounts and pensions that they hold, and to check that important documents are organised and in a safe place that any attorneys or future executors can access. This will help attorneys when it is time to step in and will relieve some of the practical issues that may arise in the administration of the estate.

Helping to put your loved one’s affairs in order may seem like a simple step, but it will bring them peace of mind and will significantly ease the burden on you as you deal with the emotional and practical challenges that a diagnosis of dementia will bring.

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