How to Change Power of Attorney for Someone with Dementia

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 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, your family must use 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 regarding the 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 regarding 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 the 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.

Pros and Cons of Guardianship Vs Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney in the Early Stage of Dementia

Ideally, older adults should name their power of attorney and have the papers drawn up before 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 can understand what the document is, what it does, and what they are approving. Most seniors living with early-stage dementia can make this designation.

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How to Change Power of Attorney for Someone with Dementia

Delegation of Power of Attorney in Mid- to Late-Stage Dementia

If there is no power of attorney designation, and the older adult is further along in the disease 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 a 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 to advocate for your loved one and their wishes. Dementia makes life a bit more complicated for older adults and their family members.

Can a person with early-stage dementia create a healthcare power of attorney (POA)?

If a person with dementia still has the legal capacity to understand their actions, they can create a POA.

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A person can set up a POA in two different ways:

They can have a POA that begins immediately or a POA that begins when they are unable to make their own decisions. A person with dementia should create a durable POA. Durable POAs remain in effect even when a person is no longer able to make their own decisions.

How do you know if a person is unable to make these decisions?

Mental capacity refers to whether a person can make important decisions. A person may lack the mental capacity to do this if they are unable to understand or retain the information they need to make the decision. There may be an assessment of a person’s ability to make informed decisions before they can sign a POA. This assessment can be done using a test, such as the Hopkins Competency Assessment Test (HCAT), alongside a psychiatrist’s assessment of the person.

Setting up a POA for those with mid to late-stage dementia: If a person has mid to late-stage dementia, they may no longer be able to create a POA. The person’s family may have to attend court to appoint someone as a guardian or conservator. A guardian or conservator can make decisions regarding:

Healthcare Finance and Food Safety

The court can appoint guardians or conservatorships if a person with dementia can no longer make that decision themselves. This also happens if: a person has not written a POA, the family is not able to agree on the care required, there is no family a person wishes to acquire guardianship or conservatorship should speak with an elder care attorney who is familiar with the process in the state they live in.

Few things are more difficult than watching illness progress in a parent or other loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s important, however, to take care of legal and financial planning while your loved one is still able to engage in the process. A good place to start is looking at the different types of Power of Attorney documents, which allow a designated person to make certain decisions should a loved one become incapacitated and unable to make decisions themselves. Here we discuss the details of making a Power of Attorney for someone with dementia.

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Is it legal to make a Power of Attorney for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s?

The answer to this question depends on mental competency. A person is required to be mentally competent to execute a Power of Attorney, which means they have to be able to understand what they are signing and the effects of doing so to legally enter into such an arrangement. In some cases, a physician may be able to sign off on declaring a person mentally competent to sign.

Alternatively, a person may execute a combined Mental Health Declaration and Power of Attorney to decide beforehand that a Power of Attorney would go into effect when certain conditions are met.

Another option is a durable Power of Attorney. A durable Power of Attorney goes into effect immediately upon signing it and terminates only upon death. Your loved one may decide instead to create a Springing Power of Attorney, a variation of the Durable Power of Attorney, which goes into effect only when they can no longer demonstrate the ability to make important decisions on their behalf. The person to whom they grant authority to make these decisions can do so only when the grantor’s abilities come into question.

I hope you find this article beneficial and wish you good health.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and happy.

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