Solution Law Firm Blog

Dementia and Guns: A Tragedy Waiting to Happen

by | Apr 26, 2021

While most are aware that their loved one with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia shouldn’t be allowed to drive, they may not realize that caution should also be exercised when restricting access to firearms.

One of the findings in the May 2018 study published in Annals of Internal Medicine covered firearm ownership among Alzheimer’s patients. The study noted the little attention focused on restricting firearm access to elderly dementia patients while 89% of Americans support restriction of firearm access to those with mental illness. There are actually no current federal gun laws that prohibit the possession or purchase of firearms by a person with dementia while only two states – Hawaii and Texas – have laws that restrict gun access for dementia patients.

gun inside purse

This lack of attention even though there is an increasing number of occurrences that involve elderly dementia patients that shoot and kill their caregivers or family members confusing them for intruders. This dangerous situation will continue to worsen as Baby Boomers are entering retirement age.

Over the next 20 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to double to around 14 million people, with the vast majority of those over the age of 65. It’s clear that firearms safety should be a top priority for those with elderly family members – even if they don’t have current signs of dementia – since nearly half of the people over the age of 65 own a gun or live with someone who does.

The conversation about restriction someone’s access to guns can be highly polarizing and controversial. Many consider guns and their right to own them an important part of their identity – especially veterans and those in law enforcement. The study’s authors recommend having this conversation with your elderly loved ones early on while physicians suggest bringing it up soon after the initial dementia diagnosis.

It’s important to acknowledge emotions and allow the person to maintain independence and decision control as long as it is safe to do so. Putting off this discussion can literally be life threatening, so it is important to have it even if it is a very touchy subject.

This discussion should take place as part of the overall estate planning process since it relates to many other end-of-life matters. Similar to advance directives that address the elderly relinquishing their driving privileges, one way to handle the risk is to create a legally binding agreement that lays out a “firearm retirement date.”

This agreement allows the gun owner to name a trusted loved on to take ownership of their firearms once they’ve reached a certain stage of dementia or a designated age. This may make the process seem more like passing on a beloved family heirloom versus giving up their guns. It is important that the transfer of certain types of firearms adhere to strict state and federal regulations. The new owner could inadvertently violate the law simply by taking possession of the guns unless they are in full compliance with these requirements.

You may want to consider creating a gun trust – an estate planning tool that is designed to deal with the ownership of firearms. Most transfer requirements are avoided because the firearm is legally owned by the trust which makes it easier for loved ones to access the firearms after the owner’s death.

Gun trusts can be a valuable planning strategy, whether the owners have dementia or not. If one of your elderly family members has access to firearms, contact our office as soon as possible. We can offer you guidance for how to being the conversation with your loved one as well as determine the best strategies to properly secure and transfer the firearms. Because of the risks involved, managing your elderly family member’s access to firearms should be taken just as, if not more, seriously as their ability to operate a motor vehicle. Contact our office today to keep your family and their assets protected.

This article is a service of The Solution Law Firm, P.A. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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