We probably shouldn’t be shocked, but it seems fair to say that most of us were, when we heard that the beloved actor, Bruce Willis, was diagnosed with aphasia, a language disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate.
By going public with this intensely private matter, the family of Bruce Willis reminds us that a bad diagnosis can happen to anyone. Life is full of surprises, some good, some bad; none of us knows for sure what we will face. One thing we do know is that there’s no guarantee that we will remain physically and cognitively sound as we age.
According to the NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders), aphasia is a disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. Though it can occur suddenly from injury or trauma, it may also develop slowly from tumors or neurologic diseases that produce cognitive impairment. About one million people in the United States currently have aphasia. Though speech therapy may help, there is no cure.
Quality of life is negatively impacted by the loss of the ability to communicate. Not being able to express oneself or understand what is said results in loss of independence and autonomy, and social relations and interactions are all affected.
How does a diagnosis of aphasia affect legal issues? Much depends upon whether the person still has legal capacity. And how is that determination made? To state the obvious, an aphasia diagnosis is problematic to legal planning. To put Estate Planning protections in place, the person with aphasia must still have legal capacity, including the ability to communicate and comprehend.
If you or someone you love is dealing with aphasia, cognitive decline, or any other condition that impacts the ability to communicate and make decisions, it is important to put Estate Planning documents in place now that will protect legal rights.
The most important Estate Planning documents needed are Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Finances. A Durable Power of Attorney is a legal document that authorizes a trusted person that you have chosen to act on your behalf and speak for you if you lose the ability to speak for yourself.
This trusted, authorized person is called an “Attorney-in-Fact”, “POA” (stands for Power of Attorney) or “Agent” – they all mean the same thing. That person would make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself. They will have the legal authority to act on your behalf and manage your financial matters if you can’t.
Durable Powers of Attorney help ensure that your personal and financial affairs don’t become a court matter – thus avoiding a guardianship or conservatorship.
Another important document is known as a Living Will. The technical term is Advance Directive or Health Care Directive. This Directive tells your physicians and your family your wishes about medical care should you be at end-of life. Do you want heroic measures? Do you want to be allowed to pass peacefully? Whatever your wishes may be, put them in writing.
Protect yourself and your family and be prepared for whatever life may bring. The attorneys at ELG Estate Planning can help you put into place Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Finances, a Living Will, and other Estate Planning documents to make sure your voice will be heard and your wishes carried out, now and in the future.