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Recognizing dementia and the end of testamentary capacity

When your loved one creates a will, or even if you create one, one thing that can't happen is for changes to take place after you lose testamentary capacity. If you've never heard of this before, it simply means that you can't make changes to your will or other estate documents if you're not mentally sound.

This is a protection that prevents people from taking advantage of you during time of confusion. It also helps prevent changes due to hallucinations or confusion. Testamentary capacity is necessary for anyone to change a will or estate plan.

One of the major reasons people lose testamentary capacity is dementia. Dementia is not a specific disease but rather a kind of catch-all phrase that describes a decline in mental abilities. The decline is so significant that it interferes with a person's daily life. Not all symptoms of dementia occur in the same order or the same way, sometimes making it difficult to diagnose.

What's the most common form of dementia?

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States. It accounts for dementia in approximately 60 to 80 percent of cases. A person who develops Alzheimer's disease doesn't automatically lose testamentary capacity, but over time, if the decline in memory and thinking skills because too significant, the person can have their testamentary capacity questioned or revoked.

What are some signs that a person might be at risk of losing testamentary capacity?

There are many signs and symptoms to watch out for. The primary worry is that a person's memory will fail. Combined with confusion, this could mean that it's easier for others to take advantage of your loved one. Additionally, your loved one may not fully grasp the implications of certain actions. This is why they're often no longer able to make decisions for themselves.

What should you do if a loved one can no longer make sound decisions?

At this point, it's wise to talk to their attorney and medical provider. At some point, the medical provider will be able to determine if your loved one is in a position to make decisions any longer. If not, then someone make take over that role, fulfilling the duties of a power of attorney. When that happens, the elder will no longer make decisions or be able to be taken advantage of or manipulated by the people who surround them each day.

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