After there has been a diagnosis of dementia, there are a number of issues that families need to address, including legal issues. The best way to approach this task, says Being Patient in the article “Alzheimer’s and the Law,” is to meet with an estate planning attorney who can guide the family in planning for the future.
The conversation will start with who should be named as two different kinds of power of attorney. One is for the durable power of attorney, which will give the named person the ability to manage any business decisions, sign contracts, and deal with insurance companies. This document will need to be inclusive so that the agent can act for the person who is going to be incapacitated.
Next, there will need to be a healthcare power of attorney. It should be complemented by a living will, which states what kind of lifesaving measures you would want if you were to be declared terminally ill. The healthcare power of attorney also allows a person to be named to make medical decisions if the person with dementia can no longer make good decisions on their own behalf.
As long as the doctor has not yet declared the person incapacitated, they can sign the financial and medical power of attorney. If the person has been declared incapacitated, then the family will need to go to court for a guardianship proceeding so the court can declare who will be in charge of the person with dementia.
Some families prefer to have one person in charge of the loved one’s financial affairs and a second person to be their healthcare power of attorney. If there is a family member who is good with money and business, that person will do a better job than someone whose heart is in the right place but doesn’t manage money well. A nervous or easily excitable family member may also not be the best choice for healthcare power of attorney, especially if important decisions need to be made in a crisis situation.
Make sure that the people who are being considered for these tasks live near enough so that they can be available when needed. A child who lives on the other side of the country may want to be the decision maker, but if they are too far away, it will create more problems than it solves.
Before naming anyone to the power of attorney roles, speak with them about the situation, and be clear about what they will be expected to do. Clarify the difference between the two roles and that of the executor. The executor is the person who oversees the person’s estate after they pass. They do not have an active role while the person is living.
People generally don’t like to think about times when they may not enjoy good health, but this is a situation where waiting to address the issue can become extremely costly. A skilled estate planning attorney who works with families with dementia will understand the situation. They can be a valuable resource of information about other related services that will become needed over time.
Reference: being patient (August 22, 2019) “Alzheimer’s and the Law”