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By the time a family is “officially told” that their loved one has Alzheimer’ disease or another neurodegenerative disease, planning by the afflicted member may be quickly becoming an impossibility.  Thoughtful but quick action must be taken to ensure the person has the needed “legal” capacity.

It is critical for the physician making the initial diagnosis to educate the patient and the family of the importance of having legal documents in place for the patient and to refer the patient and their family members to an experienced  elder law attorney.  This must be done at the earliest date to give the patient the best opportunity to stay in control of their personal finances and medical decisions and to make sure the person(s) they would want in charge of these decisions will have the authority to act for them when needed.    The timely referral to an elder law attorney benefits the patient and the attorney allowing them to establish a relationship while still possible.  The patient and attorney can then make sure the patient’s values, concerns and wishes are understood, the attorney can put them into legally binding documents and discuss them with the family and educate them as needed and at the appropriate time.

The benefit and critical importance of the physician and their staff’ in bridging the patient and the family from the specialist in the medical community to the specialist in the legal community cannot be overstated.  If the patient cannot be part of their own planning the family will be required to go to court for the same type of authority the patient could have granted them outside of the formality and cost of the judicial system.

The newly diagnosed patient and their involved family member(s) need to be reassured that while things are overwhelming there are professionals in addition to them ready to help them through the legal and financial decisions that will have to be made.  They should then be firmly advise them to seek the help of an elder law attorney at the soonest possible date.

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