It is vital to keep your will up to date, writes Susanne Beveridge
Two recent studies have finally brought a glimmer of hope following the seemingly inexorable rise in the number of people suffering from dementia.
The first, published in July, suggested that a drug, solanezumab, may cut the rate at which dementia progresses by about a third. The second, published earlier this month, revealed that the proportion of elderly people with the condition in the UK has fallen, contrary to predictions that cases would soar. It has been suggested that improvements in health and levels of education may be protecting people from the disease.
While both promise some hope for the future, the fact remains that every day thousands of people across the country are having to deal with the mental, emotional and practical implications of this disease– the frustration of there being no cure and the heartbreak of watching someone you love no longer recognise you.
In addition, there is the exhaustion at having to deal with the practical issues involved, such as providing an adequate level of specialist care, or ensuring that legal matters have been taken care of to ensure that your wishes are respected when you are no longer able to handle your own affairs.
It can be extremely difficult to broach these subjects with loved ones. It is difficult enough for individuals to plan ahead for death, and sometimes it may be even more challenging to think ahead to a time when we may still be alive but not able to deal with our own affairs.
However, it is important to plan ahead to ensure that such matters are resolved in good time. It may all too soon be too late to change a will, which is extremely important in terms of stating what you want to happen to your assets and to put in place planning provisions, such as for tax and future care home costs.
Putting a Power of Attorney in place is also essential, and provides for a situation where you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself.
Again, this can be a very difficult subject to raise with loved ones; however, if a Power of Attorney is in place, it can save a huge amount of worry, expense and emotional angst.
If one is not in place and an individual loses capacity to deal with their affairs, then the alternative may well be an application to the court to apply for a guardianship order, which can be expensive and time consuming.
It can also mean that decisions about care, treatment and accommodation are not made until a court order is granted. In addition, having a Power of Attorney allows you to choose who you wish to be appointed to make these decisions.
As an attorney, there are two distinct roles you can have. A continuing attorney has authority to deal with financial affairs, such as selling the house or dealing with tax returns, and a welfare attorney can make decisions regarding health issues, such as future care.
These responsibilities can be given to the same or different individuals, and you can appoint a substitute in case your first choice of attorney is unable to act.
Without a Power of Attorney in place, there is no immediate and ready legal authority for decisions to be made – even by a spouse, civil partner or children.
Having a Power of Attorney in place is highly advisable as it allows you to choose who should deal with your affairs on your behalf, rather than leaving this up to the court to decide.
Again, it is important that this is done well in advance because the degenerative nature of dementia means that the time when a loved one no longer has capacity to make those decisions can come all too quickly.
The key here is to make sure that the important legal documents of a will and Power of Attorney are up to date and put in place when an individual has the ability to do so – and not left until it may be too late.
Proper specialist advice is crucial.
• Susanne Beveridge is a partner in the personal & family team at Brodies www.brodies.com