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As life expectancy continues to rise, so too does the prevalence of age-related diseases such as dementia.

There are almost one million people in the UK living with dementia and it is estimated that one in six people aged 80 and over are at risk of developing the disease.

Understandably, a dementia diagnosis can turn a family’s life upside down and it will inevitably take time to process and adjust to the news.

However, because many types of dementia are progressive and get worse with time, it is important to plan ahead and prepare.

Doing this sooner after a diagnosis rather than later ensures that the person who is diagnosed can be involved in the process and express their wishes for the future.

One of the first things to think about is putting in place Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) – a legal document which enables someone to make decisions on behalf of another person.

There are two types of LPA, one which deals with financial affairs, such as managing a bank account or selling any properties, and one which relates to health and welfare, which could include decisions involving care and medical treatment.

It is a surprise to some to learn that an LPA is needed even between a married couple, as a spouse will not automatically be able to make decisions about their partner’s care or finances on their behalf without one.

As LPAs can involve making difficult choices, it is vital that the person chosen is someone trusted to act in their best interest, which could be a spouse, family member, friend, solicitor or other professional.

It may also be time to consider whether or not to put an advance decision in place regarding future medical treatment.

Another important legal document to organise or update is a will, making sure it accurately reflects the individual’s wishes for the future.

Not only will this provide peace of mind for the person who is diagnosed, but it can also eliminate difficult decisions or disagreements between loved ones further down the line.

In addition, it is a good time to review any financial papers and ensure they are in order – along with making sure family or a trusted close friend knows how they can be accessed.

It may also be worth thinking about asset protection – depending on the assets owned individually or with a partner or spouse and how they are held – which could involve moving assets in or out of joint names.

While it may seem like a lot to digest, seeking legal advice sooner rather than later can provide clarity for everyone affected by the diagnosis.

An experienced solicitor can provide support and expert guidance during what can be a complicated legal process to navigate, giving both the individual diagnosed and those close to them peace of mind when it comes to making difficult decisions in the future.

For sensitive, trusted advice on next steps after a dementia diagnosis, contact Lydia McCaslin, head of wills, probate and trusts, on probate@mincoffs.co.uk or call the office on 0191 281 6151.

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