The speed with which the disease will progress in any one individual is a question mark. So while you of course need time to adjust and make sense of this new reality, don't procrastinate. Establishing the appropriate legal plans will require your spouse's mental capacity. After that, it may be more difficult, expensive -- and perhaps even impossible -- to accomplish.
Durable Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney allows your spouse to authorize someone else to manage his/her business affairs in the event he/she can no longer do so. If your spouse has assets that are not co-owned by you, The Durable Power of Attorney will allow you (or someone else) to manage those assets.
Health Care Power of Attorney
In this document, your spouse empowers another individual or individuals to make his medical decisions if he cannot do so himself. If your spouse already has such a document, make sure it is up-to-date. It should include a HIPAA waiver (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, passed in 1996).
Your spouse may wish to execute a Living Will. This document allows her to specify what kinds of life-prolonging treatments she does, or doesn't, want in the event she is in a persistent vegatative state or in a terminal or end-stage condition. A Living Will is an invaluable tool for family members when they are called upon to make tough decisions about their loved one's treatment. It reduces family friction and preserves family harmony when everyone knows what their loved one's wishes are.
Last Will and Testament
A Will permits your spouse to specify how assets will be distributed upon death. Note that the Will does not apply to any assets that are co-owned by another, or payable on death to another. Those assets pass outside the will, by operation of law. Depending on your and your spouse's financial and family circumstances, you may also want to look into other estate planning tools, like a revocable (living) trust or an irrevocable trust. These issues should be discussed with an experienced and certified Elder Law Attorney.
Long-Term Care Planning
If you do not have long-term care insurance, you may want to start thinking about how to preserve assets if your spouse should ever need a nursing home. Consult with a Certified Elder Law Attorney to explore your options, including Medicaid benefits and Veterans Benefits.
Testamentary Special Needs Trust
Caregiver stress is well-documented. While the focus is on your spouse right now, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he will outlive you. Therefore, you need to establish your own estate planning strategies, without delay. Note that if your spouse is receiving Medicaid or other governmental benefits and receives a substantial inheritance from you, he may be disqualified from those benefits. By establishing a Testamentary Special Needs Trust for your spouse, you can leave money to her without jeopardizing her access to benefits.
A Certified Elder Law Attorney Can Help
This is probably a time of great uncertainty. Consult with a Certified Elder Law Attorney to determine what the best options are for your and your spouse's specific circumstances.