According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s Disease. Some 5.7 million Americans currently suffer from this disease.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease caused by brain cell damage; as it progresses, cognitive ability declines, and simple tasks become troublesome.

Receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be overwhelming, causing a ton of questions to arise – including questions regarding how to plan for your future with such a diagnosis. The best course of action after such a diagnosis is to speak to qualified elder law attorney who can help your get a plan in place.

But what might a plan look like?

A Durable Power of Attorney is a document in which you name an agent to act on your behalf in the event of incapacity and/or incompetency to manage your affairs. Depending on the terms of the durable power of attorney, the document could give the agent access to bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, buying/selling property, paying bills, assisting with nursing care, etc.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a document where you name an agent to act on your behalf in the event of incapacity and/or incompetency to make all general medical decisions and end of life decisions on your behalf.

A person recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease should have these documents in place. The nature of the disease will make them necessary at some point in the future, because the disease will leave the person unable to make healthcare and financial decisions on their own.

It is important to know that a person must have legal capacity to sign a Power of Attorney. Legal capacity, in general, means a person understands the document they are signing, as well as the consequences of signing the document. This is why acting early is vitally important.

If Powers of Attorney are not in place and a person lacks the legal capacity to execute the documents, then the person’s family will have to seek court intervention to declare the person incapacitated and appoint the person’s guardian and conservator to make financial and medical decisions. The court process can be expensive for the family and time-consuming.

Alzheimer’s Disease causes people to lose the ability to care for themselves and the decline usually requires some level of in-home care and eventually 24-hour skilled nursing care. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates the average nursing home in the United States can cost approximately $9,000 a month.

Long-term care is not covered under standard medical insurance policies. An elder law attorney can help a client explore various long-term options that can be put in place to assist with the cost of care.

In conjunction with ensuring the proper paperwork and long-term care planning are in place, it is good to have resources to assist with the actual caring of the individual. An elder law attorney can also provide invaluable resources for counseling, in home caregivers, health professionals, and more.

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be devasting and leave one feeling lost. Seeking help and taking charge of ensuring there is a plan in place is a vital part of dealing with the disease.

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Talk to a qualified elder law attorney today.

Rebekah Thompson is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center.