Families and caregivers for a loved one with dementia face many challenges when it comes to providing for their loved one. Making legal plans for someone with dementia may also be a challenge that they inevitably have to face.

Dementia is a medical condition involving the deterioration of memory and the impairment of reasoning. Even in minor cases, dementia can cause disruption to the daily routines of an individual. The most common form of dementia is known as Alzheimer’s disease.

When Should I Begin Making Legal Plans for My Loved One with Dementia?

Although not often times easy, it is imperative that legal plans are created soon after a diagnosis of dementia. In this way, the person with dementia will have an opportunity to express their desires regarding decisions affecting their medical care and estate planning.

The person will also be able to designate the individuals who are to make decisions on their behalf, and navigate through the legal and financial issues that may arise when dealing with their long term care. The legal planning process involves three basic factors:

  1. Planning for their health care, including long term care needs;
  2. Planning for overseeing and management of the person’s personal finances and property; and
  3. Choosing someone to make decisions on behalf of the individual for all other needs.

Thus, it is in the best interests to begin making legal plans for an individual at the onset of their diagnosis, so that they may be a participant in deciding their own long term care. Like designating a power of attorney, a person to make decisions on their behalf that will comply with their wishes. Further, planning ahead for your loved one with dementia will make signing legal documents and the entire process much easier.

Who Should Be Involved in the Process of Making Legal Plans?

As you may know, due to the effect of dementia on an individual’s cognitive function, the individual may not be able to completely handle the legal planning process independently. Thus, legal planning for persons with dementia usually requires the assistance of the affected individual’s family, especially as the disease progresses. The following list contains individuals that may be involved in the legal planning process:

  • The Individual: This may seem obvious, but the first person that should be involved in making legal plans is the individual themself. As the disease progresses, the individual should still be continually consulted, when appropriate, to ensure that all planning is aligned with their wishes;
  • The Individual’s Spouse: If the individual is married, then the spouse should be a part of the legal planning process. This is especially true in regards to the estate planning process, as the estate is typically owned by both parties;
  • The Individual’s Children: Children should be involved in the legal planning process, as they often have the best interests of their parents in mind, and can help keep the legal planning process in conformity with their parent’s desires;
  • Lawyer: If the individual has a lawyer (recommended) then the lawyer should be a part of the process. An attorney will be able to consult the all individuals involved and make sure that all the documents executed are valid; or
  • Other Persons: Other persons that may be involved include close friends or relatives that may have insight as to the individual’s wishes. This is especially relevant if the individual is unmarried, childless, or if the close friends are to be named as trustee or executor.

Are Persons with Dementia Able to Sign Legal Documents?

In order for a person with dementia to sign a legal document, it must first be determined that they have the legal capacity to do so. Legal capacity refers to the ability for a person to comprehend and appreciate the results of their actions, and make reasonable decisions.

Thus, prior to having a person with dementia sign and execute any legal document, it is advisable to talk with the person and discover whether they comprehend the document that they are signing.

After talking and explaining the document to the person, if you are still unsure about the person’s legal mental capacity, it is best to consult a physician whom can help you determine the level of their legal capacity.

Further, in making legal plans for someone with dementia, you should be sure to locate any existing legal documents. If the person has any living wills, trusts, or powers of attorney that were signed by the person, you should discover whether the person remembers having signed them. Further, you should review the existing documents and consult with the person, as it may be time to review them and make any needed edits or updates to the documents.

What is the Legal Process for Planning for Health Care and Long Term Care?

One of the most important things to consider in the legal planning process is the individual’s future health care and long term care needs. One of these issues may be whether or not the individual wishes to sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” Order (DNR). If they wish to have a DNR, then it is important that they go through the proper paperwork and inform their loved ones, including their power of attorney, that this wish must be enforced.

It is important to explore various options for health care, long term care, and coverage offered by Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits (if applicable), and other types of insurance available. Additionally, decisions will need to be made regarding the person’s personal care and property on an ongoing basis.

A person will have to be granted a power of attorney to make these decisions. In the event that person is unable to act on behalf of the person with dementia, a successor agent should also be named.

Further, upon signing a power of attorney for health care and/or a living will, copies of the documents should be provided to the person’s health care providers, so that way they know who can make decisions on the individual’s behalf.

Should I Hire an Attorney If I am Making Legal Plans for Someone with Dementia?

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with dementia, it is in  both yours and their best interests to consult an experienced and well qualified family law attorney who can assist you with making decisions regarding health care, long term care, and managing the person’s personal estate.

As you can see, the legal planning process can be a complicated process and an attorney can help guide you through the entire process and ensure that all documentation is present and validly executed.