It is generally obvious when I get involved with older people who need a guardian or other surrogate decision maker that “decline in executive functioning precedes memory impairment” as theorized in this 2007 article. I know there are more recent studies that have corroborated the theory.
Usually by the time friends and neighbors begin observing memory loss in a loved one, the brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s or another dementia has been wreaking havoc in the person’s personal affairs for years. By the time I get appointed, I find disorganization in personal papers going back 4 years or more where the person’s files for the 50 years prior were impeccably kept. We often find property taxes unpaid for multiple years, unclaimed property, uncashed refund checks that are years old, etc.
With so many bills being on auto-pay these days, a person can be highly impaired before anyone ever notices because the lights and water aren’t getting shut off, which would have been an early warning sign in prior years.
It is important to talk with your loved ones about planning for incapacity before it is too late. Don’t assume that you can wait until it’s needed to get a power of attorney drafted. It may be too late by the time you notice a problem. A stroke can come on suddenly and lead to profound impairment.
Thoughtful advance planning through powers of attorney, trusts, and directives to physicians are the best way to avoid the intrusiveness of the probate system. A qualified professional such as a licensed fiduciary can serve as agent in the absence of another qualified individual, applying the same ethical standards and best practices recommended in the Fiduciary Code of Conduct. Don’t leave your affairs or the affairs of your loved ones up to the probate system if you can avoid it. Private arrangements allow the protected person much more privacy and control – by telling the agent exactly how to proceed before incapacity strikes – and cost far less to the estate than guardianships.