Despite the rising incidence of dementia globally – The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates one new case every three seconds – and the risk of losing mental capacity in old age, few individuals plan for this possibility.

Dementia is caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday activities. The WHO estimates the number of people living with dementia worldwide will almost triple to 152 million by 2050.

September is Alzheimer’s awareness month, an international campaign by Alzheimer’s Disease International to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds the illness. Financial management is one of the first tasks which deteriorate with the condition, leaving people struggling to do simple tasks such as paying bills or managing their tax affairs.

“Most people don’t like to think about death, dying or incapacity,” says Mark Hawes, certified financial planner at Alexander Forbes. Figures from the Masters of High Courts back up this assertion, revealing that more than 80% of South Africa’s working population don’t have wills.

“If you have been diagnosed with dementia, the best way to avoid unnecessary financial burden or being taken advantage of financially, or otherwise, is to put plans in place immediately. If one day you are not able to look after yourself, you and your family should know who these responsibilities will fall to.”

Most types of dementia are progressive. Therefore, the earlier it is identified the better. In addition, the easier it is to put the necessary preparations in place. Very importantly, while our faculties are still with us we can and should be involved in the important decisions for our own future.

At the very least, it is time to ensure that your wishes are documented, understood and are willing to be carried out by all involved. Naturally the inverse is true. For the caregivers and the persons tasked with the respective areas of responsibility, making sure that you understand and are willing to carry out the wishes of the affected person (within reason) is paramount in the early days of diagnosis.

“It is therefore important to allocate someone you trust with different areas of your life. Consider your options and where you have existing policies in place, double-check what you are covered for.”

Putting your plan in place simply gets everyone pulling in the same direction. Do this for at least three areas with the help of a trusted professional:

  1. Set up or review your will

To ensure that this is done accurately, you need to be fully informed about what assets and other financial products you have. Importantly, remember that all retirement funds fall outside your estate and so beneficiaries should be nominated on each retirement fund respectively. In addition, bring in your trusted and professional financial advisor to make sure your legacy planning is effective, efficient and accurate to ensure that your wishes and priorities are met.

  1. Choose your healthcare professionals and caregivers

Understanding the expected treatment and what your lifestyle may look like in the years to come will provide insight into what facilities and care you may require. This information puts a sense of control and independence back in the affected person’s hands. It will create a great sense of comfort that the challenging journey ahead will be manageable and on your own terms. Of course, it is always recommended to include your loved ones when making the decisions – especially the ones who are expected to carry out your wishes, if only to understand if they have the capacity to do so. The cost of care for those with advanced dementia should also be factored in, as full-time nursing can be expensive. Knowing your expected care and the respective costs puts you back in control.

You can then compare your requirements with any existing insurance policies to see where you can provide the financial resources. Importantly, as cash flow may come under pressure for you and your family, you would also be able to see which policies are no longer a priority and can be cancelled. In addition, you will be able to allocate your savings and investments toward your expected expenses or make alternative arrangements with the people in your support structure – especially your family where available.

  1. Who will conduct your financial transactions on your behalf?

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen increased reports of fraudsters targeting unsuspecting and vulnerable people. Those with dementia who are already struggling to use ATMs or do internet or telephone banking may be more prone to being targeted or simply telling strangers their bank details. Now more than ever identity theft is a real concern.

It is therefore highly recommended that a trusted and responsible person or family member is appointed to conduct financial transactions on behalf of the affected. For high net worth people, a special trust can be set up and preferred trustees (along with an independent professional trustee) appointed to ensure the financial affairs and assets are managed effectively. Again, legacy planning is crucial to helping the affected person to rest easy.

Many people are unaware that a power of attorney is invalid if a person is no longer of sound mind, and financial institutions will not assist until the person is placed under administration or curatorship.

Therefore, it is important that this person is aware of your lifestyle and preferences. This can be simply from what groceries you buy to which financial institutions and structures your make use of. The latter should be considered together with your trusted professional’s financial advisor.

Hawes says it is important to know what policies one has and what they cover. “You need savings to cover your cost of living when you’re alive and no longer working. Understand your medical aid and what they will cover – at minimal, you should have a hospital plan and gap cover.”

Hawes also advises introducing your trusted confidant to your certified financial planner, in the event that something happens.

“Many people only bother to find out their family history after something happens to them. Find out if you have a history of cancer or heart conditions, Alzheimer’s or dementia in your family. By having these difficult discussions now, a person is better able to decide how their money should be used, and is less likely to be financially exploited at a later stage.”

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Safeguard yourself from financial struggle and uncertainty in the case of dementia