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Iconic journalist's passing a reminder to plan for long term care

Seattle residents may remember Mike Wallace as the 60 Minutes news correspondent who commanded America's attention on some of the nation's most important stories over the course of a 60-year career. The venerable journalist's recent death at 93 years of age tells a story once again, and serves as a reminder of the importance of long term care planning.

The journalist, like one out of every eight Americans over age 65, suffered from dementia later in life. With advances in medical technology that enable Americans to live longer than ever before, the likelihood of experiencing mental decline has increased accordingly. Once an individual becomes mentally incapacitated, creating or changing an estate plan is no longer possible in the absence of other arrangements. Therefore, in order to make sure that end-of-life wishes are heard and met, estate planning instruments such as living wills and health care directives should be in place before dementia leads to incapacity.

A living will, also known as an advance directive, along with a directive to physicians, can clarify a person's wishes regarding life-prolonging measures such as ventilators or feeding tubes. Although it is never possible to anticipate every situation, a clear expression of a person's wishes can help guide loved ones and caregivers through difficult end-of-life decisions.

Other estate planning tools can also help ease the difficulties of caring for a loved one suffering from dementia. Powers of attorney authorize a trusted person to handle financial matters, and living trusts can be used to set aside funds that are specifically designated to pay for late-in-life care.

Once dementia sets in, the opportunity to plan for proper health care may have already passed. With that in mind, King County residents need only look to the end of one iconic journalist's remarkable life for a reminder that it is never too early to plan for long term care.

Source: Forbes, "Mike Wallace death underlines need to prepare financially for risk of dementia," Deborah L. Jacobs, April 8, 2012

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