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Can people change estate plans when they have dementia?

It is an unfortunate reality that a common part of aging involves losing mental faculties. Around the globe, over 50 million people suffer to some extent from dementia, and millions of more people develop it every year. 

It is sad for children seeing their parents slowly lose their memories. Another point of contention is that it becomes confusing as to whether this person can update an estate plan after receiving a dementia diagnosis. Various life events may cause one person to change an estate plan, such as the death of a loved one or a change in finances. Unfortunately, it becomes rather difficult to make alterations. 

When is a person unable to change a will?

When it comes to signing any legal documents, a person needs to have "testamentary capacity." This means the person fully understands what he or she has signed. This also means comprehending the implications of such documents. People with significant dementia may not know how much money or forget the names of beneficiaries. While this person can still physically sign documents, some people may contest the will after the person's death. The argument here is that the person was not mentally competent to change the will, and the matter could remain in the courts for years. 

How can families avoid this situation?

Dementia symptoms can come on unexpectedly, so it is vital for people to establish financial powers of attorney well before that time comes. This gives someone else the legal right to make financial and legal decisions on behalf of the person if he or she cannot do so. This is also a good time to create a health care power of attorney and a health care directive so that loved ones can make medical decisions on behalf of the person. It is vital for all people to remain proactive about these documents to avoid legal complications later in life. 

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