The best time to create estate plans is yesterday. Anyone can benefit from them regardless of age or financial status. However, life happens, and estate planning may not come up until the senior years for some folks, including your own parents.

It is still not too late for them to get their affairs in order, but what if your mom or dad has dementia? How does that affect the ability to create legal documents that will protect your parent’s assets and care?

Act quickly

The sooner you act, the better. Having dementia does not automatically make your parent incapable of establishing or changing estate plans. What does determine eligibility is incapacitation. Help your parent now before the dementia worsens. Discuss with your parent’s health care provider your parent’s intellectual condition. You may also want the assistance of a lawyer to ensure everything is legal and valid to avoid problems later on.

In addition to a will and trusts, establish financial and medical powers of attorney and create an advance health directive (living will). Include all relevant family members in the meetings, if possible, to get everyone on the same page and prevent disputes.

What to do under incapacitation

If your parent’s mental state is too far gone, or your parent refuses to be cooperative, and little or no estate plans are in place, then you will have to take steps to obtain legal power. One route is to request a guardianship to appoint you or someone else to the role of guardian. A guardian can manage finances, make decisions regarding medical and everyday care or handle both areas.

You can also contest the will if you believe your parent signed it under duress or other inappropriate circumstances or if you disagree with its interpretation. Both guardianship and contestation are lengthy and costly, however, highlighting the importance of prioritizing estate planning.