Why you should plan ahead this Dementia Awareness Week

Stephanie Rose is a Director at Solicitors for the Elderly, an organisation that specialises in helping older and vulnerable people plan ahead. Here are her top tips for anyone looking to protect themselves and their family in the future.
There are currently around 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, but many of us are still unaware of how it might affect us and our loved ones. This week is Dementia Awareness Week, where people and organisations across the UK will unite to raise awareness of dementia.

1. Start a conversation
No one wants to think about getting older, let alone have an in-depth discussion about things like living arrangements, long-term care, inheritance and funeral wishes. It may be a difficult topic, but it could be one of the most important conversations you ever have with your family. Illnesses like dementia can progress rapidly, so the more prepared you are, the less stressful decisions will be for you and those around you.

2. Appoint someone you trust to manage your affairs
Dementia affects our mental capacity – the ability to make basic and important decisions for ourselves. Most of us assume that if this happens to us, we can rely on people we know and trust to ensure our wishes are carried out – to safeguard our finances, our health, and our care. But it is a mistake to assume that you can make decisions on behalf of a loved one, or that they can do so for you, without the appropriate legal documents in place. A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document that grants individuals (called attorneys) the power to act on a friend or loved one's behalf, if they are too ill, or no longer wish to make their own decisions. There are two types of LPA, one for a person's health and welfare, and one for their property and financial affairs. Without one in place, many families find major decisions about their spouse, child, or parent are left to the court, medical professionals, or even a social worker.

Having an LPA in place is a little bit like having insurance. You hope you never need to use it, but if the worst were to happen, you and your loved ones have some peace of mind. You can only create an LPA while you still have mental capacity, so it's best to think ahead and prepare.

3. Think about your care options
With more people living longer, most of us are likely to require some form of care in later life. There are numerous care options to consider and it's important to have your preferences officially documented in your LPA. How you fund care, particularly a care home, can be complicated and depends on whether you have sufficient funds available to be a self-funded resident or whether you're eligible for support from your Local Authority. There are also a number of rules around funding care, for example, you must ensure any gifts to relatives aren't classed as 'deprivation of assets', otherwise they may be reclaimed by your Local Authority. Considering the options early on will enable you the time to arrange the care you and your loved ones want.

4. Speak to an expert
Discussing arrangements for later life can be difficult and often stressful for families. A legal specialist will not only explain all the options available to you, but they can also offer an impartial, professional opinion on your specific situation and personal circumstances. Find a lawyer who is specially trained and well-practised in older client law to give you the best chance of ensuring your wishes and preferences are fulfilled in the future. SFE members undertake extensive qualifications and spend a substantial amount of their time working with older and vulnerable clients, building trust-based relationships to provide the reassurance they need.