If you have a parent or other loved one who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another condition like Parkinson’s disease that can also cause dementia, the news can be a stunning blow. However, if their condition is diagnosed in the early stages, they may have years before they begin to have serious memory loss and other debilitating symptoms.

While they’re still able to make decisions about their care, their end-of-life wishes and their estates, it’s essential to draft some legal documents. This can help your loved one rest assured that their affairs will be handled by the people they choose when they’re no longer able to make financial and health care decisions for themselves.

They can also prevent family conflict over their estate by putting their intentions in writing while they still have “testamentary capacity.” This is a legal term meaning that the person drafting a will and/or other estate planning documents understands:

  • What property they have (and its value)
  • Who their next of kin are (whether they leave anything to them or not)
  • What they are designating be done with their property

Virtually every estate plan — but certainly one for someone who’s looking at a future with dementia — should include designation of powers of attorney for financial and health care matters. It should also include an advanced directive detailing their end-of-life wishes. People can state under which conditions they wish to be kept alive or not via respiratory equipment, feeding tubes and other measures. An advanced directive can save family members the pain and conflict of making these decisions themselves.

If your loved one is able to develop or make needed modifications to their estate plan on their own, or with the help of an attorney, it’s important that they do so. Too much interference by family members can lead to accusations of undue influence. If you believe their dementia is too far advanced for that, you may need to look into setting up a guardianship. Either way, it’s essential to seek experienced legal guidance.