Portrait of happy senior man sitting at home with walking stock and smiling.Portrait of nice cheerful positive cheery stylish old man wearing checked shirt leaning on cane in white light modern interior studio room new house

Wilbur was a financially sophisticated businessman. Then he suffered a stroke. Five years later, he needed assistance with bathing and eating, could not read, and required help to use the television or telephone.

After Wilbur’s death, a geriatric psychiatrist reviewed his medical records and spoke with family members, his doctor, and his lawyer. The psychiatrist explained how looking at abnormalities in behavior can aid in diagnosing dementia.

What is Dementia?

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) agrees, noting “Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions, and the personalities may change.”

The National Institute on Aging calls out four types of dementia

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Vascular dementia 

There are other dementias, of course. To make it more confusing, people can have more than one type of dementia. This is called “mixed dementia.”

The pros will tell you to look for at least one of these behaviors:

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Not caring about other people’s feelings
  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment
  • Confusion
  • Name-calling
  • Illogical arguments
  • Change in behavior
  • Difficulty understanding or expressing thoughts
  • Inability to handle money responsibly or pay bills
  • Poor personal sanitation
  • getting lost in a familiar neighborhood
  • Being scammed repeatedly
  • Unwarranted anger

How Dementia Can Impact Estate Planning

Back to Wilbur. The psychiatrist said that “people with dementia often have good days and bad days.” Wilbur’s stroke hit him in an area of the brain that controls executive function.

Impaired executive function can cause loss of insight and judgment, and difficulty manipulating information and data. It can also cause a person to make contradictory statements, have poor memory, and employ illogical reasoning.

Wilbur exhibited all that, and more. He wanted to leave some of his assets in trust for one of his daughters, but later stated he wanted that daughter to have everything free of trust. When he listed family members, he forgot about one grandchild and two great-grandchildren, although they frequently visited him. He could not list all of his assets.  

When his doctor asked him questions before he signed the will, Wilbur’s answers were inconsistent. He told his doctor he was making a will because one of his daughters wanted all of his money, but then said he didn’t have any money because he had given it away. He said the same daughter was challenging his will, even though he had not yet signed it.

The psychiatrist who reviewed the records after Wilbur’s death believed that Wilbur’s impaired executive function was caused by his cerebrovascular disease, dementia, and strokes. She concluded that he did not know what he was signing when he executed his will because the document was complicated, and Wilbur was incapacitated. The Court agreed and threw out Wilbur’s will.

Discerning Incapacity in Estate Planning

Wilbur’s case is a great example of how difficult it can be to discern incapacity. The psychiatrist was critical of Wilbur’s doctor because he took Wilbur’s answers at face value and did not ask follow-up questions. She said that delusions and misperceptions are common with dementia, and the doctor never tested whether Wilbur’s statement was due to a misperception.

In my practice, I often see cases where a person’s capacity is questioned. In legal proceedings, we have rules and procedures on how to handle capacity issues. 

It’s not so in the real world. How would you know if your neighbor’s uncalled-for and persistent anger is caused by his unhappy childhood, or because he suffers from impaired executive function?

At some point, you may need to help.

Hammerle Finley Law Firm is Here to Help With Estate Planning

Dementia can bring great difficulties to both day-to-day life and planning for the future. If you’re looking for help with estate planning for yourself or a loved one, contact the experts at Hammerle Finley Law Firm today to schedule a consultation

Virginia Hammerle is an accredited estate planner and represents clients in estate planning, probate, guardianship, and contested litigation. She may be reached at legaltalktexas@hammerle.com. This blog contains general information only and does not constitute legal advice.