Alzheimer’s is no longer a disease that only affects the elderly. Age used to be considered the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, however in recent times around 5% of sufferers are under the age of 65. Many people who get early onset Alzheimer’s are in the 40’s and 50’s with families and careers – and no Wills or Estate Planning documents in place.
Causes of Early Onset
Unfortunately doctors still do not fully understand why most cases of early onset Alzheimer’s appear in people of such a young age. Having a close relative with Alzheimer’s disease is not evidence of a genetic link, as people that are influenced by risk factor genes only have a marginally increased risk in developing the disease.
However there is one rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that is passed from generation to generation called Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD). If one parent has a mutated gene that causes FAD each child has a 50% chance of inheriting it. The presence of this gene means that the individual will eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease, usually in their 40’s or 50’s.
Current genetic testing can identify specific changes in a person’s genes, and can tell whether or not a person has FAD, and whether or not the child has also inherited the gene. It cannot, however, determine when the symptoms will begin.
Early Onset & the Law
People with younger onset Alzheimer’s and their families often face significant changes to their financial situation with responsibilities such as a mortgage, full time employment, and small dependant children.
Families will have to deal with sorting out superannuation, medical and income insurance, on top of potential carers salary, or alternatively reducing hours or giving up work to continue caring for the person with dementia.
If the individual with early onset Alzheimer’s is employed, then it is important to know that most employers have a legal responsibility to help them continue working. It is illegal for an employer to terminate an individual with early onset Alzheimer’s as long as the individual is still able to complete their work and tasks.
It is important to remember that dementia affects people differently – some people may still be able to work and manage finances years after diagnosis whereas others will need much more assistance and support.
Wills & important estate planning documents to have
Creating estate planning documents in the early stages of the disease can be empowering and can assist to put minds at ease with ensuring that the wishes of the individual are met. The sooner that legal wishes are met, the better prepared the individual and family are, and can then shift focus to enjoying the best quality of life available.
Before beginning this process, it is important to determine whether or not the individual making the estate planning documents has legal and decision making capacity. Legal capacity is determined by ensuring that the individual understands that a Will is being made, the extent of the property that they are disposing, and to comprehend the claims to which the Will will give effect to.
The legal documents that are required include:
- A Power of Attorney
- An Enduring Power of Attorney
- A Living Will
- A Living Trust
- A Guardianship Directive
It is imperative that you receive the advice and assistance of a competent Lawyer prior to creating any of these documents. We at Owen Hodge Lawyers believe that it is important for everyone, regardless of age or health, to have a functioning Will in place. This not only protects you and your interests, but can also be invaluable to your family upon your death.