Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias – What Do Planners and Litigators Need to Know?

May 20, 2022

Presenter, California Lawyers Association Fourth Annual Financial Elder Abuse Symposium


About a third of Americans age 85 and up have Alzheimer’s disease, which is the leading cause of dementia. Scientists are scrambling to better understand, diagnose and treat such diseases.

California law presumes that clients have sufficient mental capacity to engage in estate planning. Under the Due Process in Competence Determinations Act, a mere diagnosis of dementia does not establish incapacity – instead, a contestant must prove mental function impairment.

This program will begin with a presentation by geropsychologist Bonnie Olsen, Ph.D., on the causes of dementia and current conceptualizations and future trends in capacity assessment. She will review common capacity issues that arise in estate planning scenarios and pragmatic approaches to determining when an assessment by a mental health professional will be of benefit.

Attorneys Yulissa Zulaica and Heather Matusmoto Hoekstra will share their observations on how dementia impacts estate planning. What can and should a lawyer without medical training do when asked to perform planning for a client who may have dementia?  How can the lawyer assist the client without facilitating financial elder abuse?

The panelists also will discuss how cases involving persons with dementia are litigated. What mental capacity standards apply?  How does dementia increase vulnerability to undue influence? What are the key sources of evidence? How reliable are common cognitive function tests, such as the MoCA and MMSE?

This panel is being moderated by Jeff Galvin.