My mind has been wrapped around the word competent lately. It is an especially important word to someone with dementia. Webster's dictionary defines competent as "having enough ability to do what is needed; capable". The key word here is capable. In regards to dementia, whether one is considered capable or not may differ from person to person. With this in mind, I have found it to be of utmost importance to make all the legal decisions I can while I still have that capability. My competency, however, is also important to other people...
I was sitting in a lawyer's office with an elderly lady I care for. She was completing her will, with me as her executor. Abruptly she said, "Okay, Leah, you need to leave now." I wasn't offended. I knew what she was doing even though she had not told me beforehand. Within minutes of my leaving, I was once again ushered into the office.
"Leah, Anna is concerned about your health," the lawyer began. (In this case, health is synonymous with dementia. It's what people say when they don't want to say the real word).
The lawyer tried to gingerly approach my dementia diagnosis. I stopped her midway through her spiel, wanting to relieve her discomfort, and because I wanted her to get to the point.
"I know Anna is concerned about my dementia. We've talked about it many times. I have no problem having someone take my place as executor in the case that I am not able to do it," I said. At that point, the lawyer, who is a wonderfully kind and sensitive person, seemed to take a sigh of relief. Then our session continued.
Legally, I am not a good candidate for the responsibility of executor for someone's estate. In this case, though, Anna is almost 87 years old. I would hope my vascular dementia would move more slowly than her demise. (Sorry, Anna). Though, it is a good idea for one to have a backup where one's executor is concerned. I reassured Anna that my feelings were not hurt and that she had a good idea when she wanted to add a backup executor. I told her that I want her to talk to me about her concerns and about my dementia. Easier said than done.
Of course, this is but one example of where dementia comes into play where legal matters are concerned. My husband and I had been putting off making our wills. You know how that it is - "there's always tomorrow".
But that's not necessarily the case. No one should put off making out a will-do it NOW. You do not know what tomorrow will bring.
Once I got my dementia diagnosis, we knew we could not put it off any longer. My husband and I wrestled with our wills and finally got them completed. This was important for me to do while I was still "competent". I made out a Living Will, too, so that my wishes can be known fully at a time I am no longer able to make decisions myself. This, too, is important for ANYONE and EVERYONE to do. It will allow your loved ones to make decisions which are your ideas, taking off some of the guilt which could occur if these decisions were left for them to make on their own.
Having dementia is a little like being pregnant (lol!).You have to make preparations for the big event to come. Legal issues are just one of the necessary activities with which you must contend. It is important that one makes the necessary decisions as early in the disease as possible. But these are lessons, too, which need to be heeded by everyone, not just those of us with dementia.
Published On: February 07, 2008