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As we age, it is important to think about our goals and wishes in case we are unable to make decisions for ourselves. There are several legal and financial documents that can ensure that these wishes are carried out. These documents are especially important to complete if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an illness that could lead to declining cognitive health, such as dementia.

Because dementia can impact our ability to think clearly, it is important to identify a person whom you trust as a proxy; a person who knows your wishes and will ensure they are followed. This is often a spouse or family member. Documents to complete include a health care and durable power of attorney, a will or living trust, permission to access bank accounts, and resuscitation considerations. It is very important that a caregiver has permission to talk with health care providers and financial institutions such as Medicare, a bank, or financial advisors. This will enable them to pay bills and manage your financial and health care needs as you directed.

The National Institute on Aging recommends the following for getting your affairs in order.

  • Start discussions early with your loved one while everyone can still help make decisions.
  • Create documents that communicate health care, financial management, and end of life wishes for yourself and the people you care for, with legal advice as needed.
  • Review plans regularly, and update documents as circumstances change.
  • Put important papers in one place. Make sure a trusted family member or friend knows the location and any instructions.
  • Make copies of health care directives to be placed in all medical files, including information on every doctor seen.
  • Give permission in advance for a doctor or lawyer to talk directly with a caregiver as needed.
  • Reduce anxiety about funeral and burial arrangements by planning ahead.

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