Caring for Parents with Dementia: Legal Considerations

Parents with dementia and other memory loss disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, present extraordinary challenges for the parent and adult children tasked with assisting them. Drafting a will, making health care decisions, and taking care of legal and financial matters are just some of the items that must be sorted out, hopefully before the onset of the worst conditions.


The first step when caring for a parent is to assess their mental capacity. It is important that you seek medical guidance, including a diagnosis, when you observe signs of dementia. If your parent has been diagnosed with dementia-causing illnesses, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, adjustments should be made to all legal and financial matters.


Durable power of attorney

If your parent is still mentally competent, a durable power of attorney, may be all that you need. You will be able to make legal, financial, and health-care related decisions for your parent. You will also be able to sign legal documents on his or her behalf. If your parent has already lost mental capacity, you will not be able to execute a durable power of attorney. Instead, you will need to seek guardianship of your parent.


Collect legal and financial documents

A will is an important part of the estate plan. If your parent does not have a will and there is no issue with his or her mental competency, preparing a will be important. While your parent is able, creating an inventory of assets and liabilities, locating deeds, bank accounts, and tax records will make the process much easier. Again, if dementia is advanced and your parent has lost mental competency, the only way to intervene in his or her legal and financial matters will be through a guardianship or an already executed power of attorney.


What if a will is already in place?

Once a will is executed, modifications are possible, but only if your parent has testamentary capacity, meaning they are able to make and execute a will. Once dementia has set in, a modification of the will, is pretty much impossible. When signing a modification or a will, your parent will need to understand and articulate the extent and value of their property, the disposition or gift he or she is making, understand who they are gifting, whether spouse, children, other loved ones, or charitable organizations.


Health-care directives and health care decisions

If your parent created a health-care directive before the memory loss occurred, called an Advanced Directive, you will be required to follow their wishes, even if you disagree with their health-care decision. If they are suffering from signs of dementia and do not have an advance directive, end-of life decisions, as well as healthcare decisions, can only be made by a guardian.


It is important to note that a will, durable power of attorney, and advance directive should be made before your parent loses his or her mental capacity to make these decisions for themselves. After the onset of the memory loss diseases, only through guardianship can these determinations be made by an adult child for the affected parent. 

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