Dementia Action Week has arrived and to mark the occasion I decided to become a Dementia Friend. This is an Alzheimer’s Society initiative which simply involves signing up online to become a Dementia Friend and watching a video of interviews with people who are living with dementia.
As exciting as it will be to receive a Dementia Friend badge in the post as a reward for signing up, the real reward is in the helpful insights the video provides into the experiences of people living with dementia.
The video reminded me that a dementia diagnosis ought not to result in putting people into a separate “category”. All the participants in the video seemed so, well, “normal” and I would not necessarily have guessed at an underlying health problem without having been told. The heartfelt plea of one participant was to “treat me like me”. We are encouraged to remember that people at all stages of life can be affected and the effects of the illnesses falling under the dementia “umbrella” can be varied and nuanced. A little patience and sensitivity can go a long way towards helping someone living with dementia to feel they still have something to offer.
Our natural tendency is to put people in boxes and this was evident in the way the law used to deal with mental capacity. Either you had capacity or you didn’t. Nowadays, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 requires that capacity be assessed on a decision-by-decision and task-by-task basis. The assumption must be that someone is capable unless and until it is apparent that they need help with a particular decision or task.
The lesson for lawyers (and all of us) is that we should not make assumptions about a person or their abilities on the basis of a dementia diagnosis. Being told you have dementia does not necessarily mean that you have lost the capacity to make your own decisions.
This logic applies to the process of making a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) or a Will. A diagnosis does not necessarily mean that you cannot now make provision for the future.
An LPA is a legal document which enables an Attorney to act on someone’s behalf, making decisions about their property and finances or about their health and general welfare, depending on the type of LPA. Someone who has received a diagnosis may be perfectly capable of creating an LPA and should therefore take that opportunity, even if it turns out that they don’t need assistance for quite some time to come. Likewise, a diagnosis may act as prompt to make or update a Will.
Someone who has received a diagnosis should seriously consider involving a lawyer in the process of making an LPA or Will. This will hopefully make it much less likely that anyone will question the validity of the LPA or Will. The lawyer can help to assess, perhaps with help from a doctor, whether a person is still able to make an LPA or Will. You need a lawyer who understands the particular challenges you face following diagnosis. At Blake Morgan, we will always do our best to “treat you like you”.
If you would like further information about putting in place an LPA or making a Will, please contact our Succession & Tax team.