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How could dementia affect estate planning?

Dementia is a heartbreaking disease for individuals and their families to grapple with. It can make the future suddenly seem uncertain. The future might seem even more overwhelming if your parent does not have an estate plan set up.

In the United States, roughly five million people are living with dementia. However, more than half of people over 55 do not have the estate planning essentials they need in place. If your parent falls in these categories, you may begin to worry about how your parent’s dementia will impact their ability to make a will.

Can they still make a valid will?

The biggest concern that you might have is whether your parent can still create a valid will. After all, in California, you must be at least 18 and of sound mind to create a will.

The standard of a sound mind, or testamentary capacity, requires your parent to remember and understand:

  1. What they are doing by creating a will;
  2. The nature of their property and assets;
  3. The relationship they have with all relatives included in their will.

Dementia does not necessarily take away this capacity immediately. In many cases, the early stages of dementia impact short-term memory first. Your parent might be forgetful and lose items frequently, but that does not mean they do not understand the three elements listed above. Therefore, someone with dementia may still have capacity to create a valid will.

How can you help your parent plan for the future?

Even if your parent still has the mental capacity to create a valid will, they might still need assistance. You can help by:

  • Asking your parent about their wishes, listening and taking detailed notes;
  • Helping them make an inventory of their assets;
  • Approaching the conversation carefully, especially since dementia can cause irritability; and
  • Encouraging your parent to speak with an attorney, who can help your parent craft an effective estate plan to protect your parent’s wishes.

The only thing you must remember is that you cannot serve as a witness when your parent signs their will if you are a beneficiary.

Be aware of the risks

Someone in the early stages of dementia can often still create a valid will. However, you should be aware that this could increase the chances of someone contesting your parent’s will during the probate process.

That is why it is a good idea to make sure everyone in your family – and all of the beneficiaries of your parent’s will – are on the same page. Keep them updated about your parent’s condition and discuss the will and estate plan with them too. Being open with the family during this tough time can help things go a lot smoother in the future.

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