While it is important for everyone to plan for their future, it is especially important for a person that has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The sooner that the planning begins after a diagnosis, the more likely that the person can contribute to the conversation and it becomes the less likely that problems will arise in the future. The Alzheimer’s Association has many resources available for seniors that have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as well as for their loved ones, including steps to take regarding legal plans for the future.
In most cases, a person who is suffering from dementia is able to understand the meaning and importance of a legal document. As such, they possess the legal capacity to execute the document. So long as the person suffering from Alzheimer’s possesses the legal capacity to make decisions regarding their care, they should take part in legal planning.
However, before you have someone suffering from dementia sign a legal document, there are some steps that you should take. First, talk with the person to make sure that they understand the document along with the consequences of signing. Second, ask for medical advice and examination regarding their mental capacity and ability to comprehend the legal proceedings. Finally, take an inventory of existing documents that the person possessed before being diagnosed. It is important to review and update any of those legal documents as necessary.
There are a few basic legal documents that a person suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s needs to have before they lose the ability to make decisions on their own. Again, be sure to check for existing documents that need review, or prepare to create these documents with an attorney.
A living will dictates what medical decisions, treatments, medications, and the like a person would like to receive or deny if they become unable to communicate those choices when the time comes. The living will is carried out by the person named as the healthcare proxy, and it can even include wishes regarding artificial life support.
Power of Attorney The person named as the power of attorney for someone suffering from dementia makes all financial and legal decisions that are not related to medical care. Typically, this is a spouse, family member, close friend, or attorney. It is important to update this document as life changes occur. This document should be drafted as “durable,” which means that they are valid even after a person loses legal capacity.
The healthcare proxy form names a person to make all relevant medical decisions for a person who can no longer make decisions on their own. If a living will exists, the healthcare proxy must make decisions based on what is in that document. These decisions can include choices about a person’s physicians, care facilities, types of treatments, and whether or not to resuscitate.
A will is a document that names an executor for an estate and beneficiaries or heirs to the estate for a person suffering from Alzheimer’s. This document only takes effect after the person has died and it dictates who will inherit what from the estate.
A guardian or conservator can be appointed from the court to make choices regarding a person’s care and property if one has not been decided before the person suffering from dementia loses capacity. This comes into play if the person has no family or if the family cannot agree on the proper course of care. A guardian also ensures that the person’s day to day care and needs are met.