Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Learn how you can make plans that protect yourself following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
It is said that an average person has about 86 billion nerve cells that communicate with one another. When some of these nerve cells are damaged, like in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, they will trigger a series of symptoms that include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, speaking or problem-solving.
In the UK, there are around 850,000 people with dementia and more than 520,000 of them have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Early diagnosis is key, as there are drug treatments that can boost the levels of some chemical messengers in the brain, thereby alleviating some symptoms. More importantly, as Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease – meaning it gets worse over time – early diagnosis allows you time to make effective financial and legal plans that can protect your interests and wishes. Time is of the essence because many legal documents require you to have mental capacity, referring to the ability to understand, communicate and make your decisions. By being in charge now, you will feel less anxious about the future, focus on staying healthy instead.
In this article, our London-based dementia solicitors aim to highlight seven financial and legal issues that you may want to consider following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
The Mental Capacity Act in England and Wales aims to protect people who can’t make decisions for themselves, like in the case of Alzheimer’s when the disease progresses. When this happens, the person is said to lack capacity. Before reaching this stage though, there are effective ways you can plan today that will help to safeguard your finances and legal rights.
Many families we know have a loved one with dementia living with them, particularly if the dementia is in an early stage. Family members take turns to help with support from social care. Social care can include day care centres, replacement care (allowing your carers to take short breaks) and personal care at home like helping with bathing. To get social care, you must talk to your local council and go through a process called a care needs assessment. This exercise is to work out what your needs are, and the level and type of care required to meet these needs. At the end of the day, the council may help fund and support this care – the decision will depend on your income and assets, however. The council may also reduce the council tax rate for the people with dementia and their carers.
Even if the council decides that you aren’t eligible for funded care, the care needs assessment is still useful because it provides vital information on the kind of care and support you require.
Typically, your local council will conduct a means test which looks at your income, money in the bank and also your property. In some instances, your home won’t be taken into account if it is occupied by your partner, a relative who is aged 60 or over, a child of yours aged under 18, an estranged partner if they are also a lone parent. Sometimes, the council may ignore the value of your property for the first 12 weeks of your care, giving you time to decide what to do with your property.
But there are some types of care which must be provided by your local council free-of-charge to you. They include:
The UK government has been providing benefits to help people on low incomes, people with a disability (which could be due to Alzheimer’s) and people who care for someone.
You may be eligible for Personal Independence Payment (if you are between 16 and 64) or Attendance Allowance (if you are 65 or over). Also, your family member looking after you for more than 35 hours a week may be eligible for Carer’s Allowance.
What we want to highlight here is a package called the NHS continuing healthcare. Focuses on primary health needs, this scheme is not means-tested, meaning how much money you have does not matter. Fully funded by the NHS, this scheme allows you to receive care in your own home or in a care home. However, as the NHS has limited resources, not everyone can qualify. In the event that you do not qualify for NHS continuing healthcare, you may still be able to receive NHS-funded nursing care contribution.
There are also other schemes that help reduce your medical costs. For instance, you can buy a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) which allows you to buy several prescriptions for a set price. This is available to anyone who prepays and is not means-tested.
When the disease progresses, family members are less likely to cope and consequently, they may send you to a care home where you could get the special attention you need.
At present, a significant number of people pay for their own care because they can choose which care home to live in. The funding methods include income from private pensions, investments or property.
Some people also choose what is called an ‘immediate needs annuity’ – you pay a one-time premium and in return, a tax-free income will be paid to your registered care provider (if you are in a residential care) for the rest of your life. The amounts paid by the insurer also take rising costs of care into consideration, giving you peace of mind. If you choose to leave residential care, the income will be paid directly to you (but this income will then be taxed).
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia tend to get worse over time and there will be a time when you cannot make decisions for yourself. To protect yourself from financial abuse, it is important to plan ahead by appointing your Lasting power of attorneys when you still have mental capacity – meaning when you can make, understand and communicate your wishes. Although the term attorney is used, they don’t have to be from the legal profession; they can be your spouse, a trusted family friend and/or your adult children.
There are two types of attorneys:
The appointed attorney will manage your bank accounts, pay bills, sell your home to pay for care, along with other decisions about money and property. Once they are registered, they can make decisions for you right away if you permit. Alternatively, you can put them on standby and allow them to take over when you no longer can make decisions for yourself.
The appointed attorney will make decisions about things like your daily routine (washing, dressing, eating), medical care, moving into a care home, life-sustaining treatment, to name but a few. They can only make decisions for you when you aren’t able to make your own decisions.
If you haven’t yet appointed one or two lasting power of attorneys and the Alzheimer’s progresses to the point when you can’t make decisions for yourself, then your next of kin will have to apply to the Court of Protection to become your deputy. This process is long and costly, plus your deputy must meet a string of on-going legal requirements as highlighted in the article “What is a deputy”. So take charge today and save your loved ones from going through the complicated deputyship process.
An advance decision, aka living Will, is a document allowing you to decide now if you choose to refuse certain types of treatment in the future when you can’t communicate. For instance, you may refuse a blood transfusion based on your religious belief or may refuse life-sustaining treatment to protect your dignity. This document, we must add, is about your choices; it is not about asking someone to help you end your life as assisted suicide is illegal in England.
You can create this legally-binding document when you have mental capacity and with the help of a dementia solicitor like us. We will make sure that your advance decision is correct, listing only the treatments you are refusing (as you may want to refuse some but accept others). If the document is watertight, then your doctors, carers and next of kin will respect your wishes.
Contrary to an advance decision, an advance statement is about how you would like to be looked after and it is also not legally-binding. For example, an advance statement may include:
While lasting power of attorneys and advance decision are here to protect your wishes when you are still alive, your Will makes sure that your heirs and loved ones have something from your legacy that they can cherish when you are gone.
Just like the other legal documents mentioned here, you can only create a Will when you have mental capacity. Following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, it does not mean that you lack capacity right away. But it does mean that as your solicitor, we will need to follow the right procedures to get medical evidence to show that you have mental capacity to make decisions. Proving you have capacity is key to avoid future complications like disputes among your relatives.
Before writing a Will, take a moment to list all the assets that you have, name your beneficiaries, as well as your executors. For more information, take a look at this “How to make a Will” service page.
Assistance from your local council, the government and the NHS to patients with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia do get updated from time to time, often catching people off-guard. Talk to us if you find it hard to navigate through the process.
Making plans today while you still have capacity is also key. Being well prepared is one of the best ways to attain peace of mind and focus on staying healthy instead. So talk to one of our dementia solicitors on 0208 520 4555 today about your lasting power of attorneys, advance decision and most importantly, your Will.
Alternatively, you can contact us via this Contact Form.
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This post is not legal advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.