When your loved one receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, your entire family has much to process. In addition to weathering the emotions that naturally follow this diagnosis, families must convene with the diagnosed older adult in order to make plans for their current and future needs.
This can feel overwhelming, especially as you are trying to come to terms with the diagnosis. However, it is crucial that your family uses the early stages of the disease to fully understand the diagnosed older adult’s wishes and input for moving forward.
Just one thing to consider during your planning is the topic of advance directives, including power of attorney. It is much easier for everyone to be on the same page in regard to power of attorney long before it is necessary because obtaining power of attorney when the older adult in question is already well into the disease process is more time consuming and difficult.
What Is Power of Attorney?
Power of attorney is a legal document that allows someone to act on behalf of someone else in regard to healthcare or financial decisions. There are many types of power of attorney, each of which serves a unique purpose. However, a durable power of attorney is the most common for older adults.
Who Can Have Power of Attorney?
Selecting who has power of attorney is an important decision. By law, the person who is selected is called the agent. This person should be a trustworthy adult who is willing and able to handle complex medical and financial decisions and responsibilities on behalf of the diagnosed older adult.
Sometimes, families choose to split power of attorney duties so that no one person is in charge of every decision. In these cases, they divide duties into healthcare decisions and financial decisions, creating two powers of attorney, one for each category.
Power of Attorney Delegation — Early Stage Dementia
Ideally, older adults should name their power of attorney and have the papers drawn up prior to any medical crisis, including a dementia diagnosis. However, if your loved one has not but already has a diagnosis of dementia, you can work together to name the power of attorney.
First, meet with an attorney. It is best if you work with an attorney who has extensive experience in elder law topics. This way, they can help you navigate the situation.
In general, a person with dementia can sign a power of attorney designation if they have the capacity to understand what the document is, what it does, and what they are approving. Most seniors living with early stage dementia are able to make this designation.
Power of Attorney Delegation — Mid- to Late-Stage Dementia
If there is no power of attorney designation, and the older adult is further along in the disease’s process, things can get a bit more complicated. If an older adult is unable to understand the power of attorney document and process, the family will need to enlist the help of the local court.
A judge can review the case and grant someone in the family (or a court designee) the title of conservator. A conservatorship allows the designee named by the court to make decisions about the person’s finances. A guardianship allows the designee named by the court to make decisions about the person’s healthcare. This is cumbersome, certainly, but it is necessary in order to advocate for your loved one and their wishes.
Dementia makes life a bit more complicated for older adults and their family members. Learn more about challenges you may face now and in the future, along with realistic solutions that will help you navigate them with confidence, by downloading our free resource, “The Caregiver’s Complete Guide to Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care.”