“Your parent can sign several legal documents that will protect him and handle his legal issues. These documents include a durable power of attorney for health care decisions, a durable power of attorney for financial matters and a will or living trust.”
When caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, it is easy to be overwhelmed with anxiety over the constant daily issues of her medical care and making sure that she does not wander off or accidentally set the house on fire while cooking. There is, however, another concern you should address for your parent, and that is tackling the legal issues associated with caring for a parent with dementia.
An adult suffering from dementia is vulnerable to physical harm and financial exploitation from others. He can do things that expose himself and others to danger and can create legal liability that could risk his assets. You can do nothing and hope for the best, or you can be proactive and protect your parent through the savvy use of legal documents.
When Your Parent is Still Legally Competent
If your parent still has the legal capacity to sign legal documents, it is much easier and less expensive to address her issues. The conversation with your parent may not be the most comfortable talk you have ever had, but it is necessary. You can explain that by preparing the documents now, your parent controls her outcome, rather than later asking a court to enter an order.
Your parent can sign several legal documents that will protect him and handle his legal issues. These documents include a durable power of attorney for health care decisions, a durable power of attorney for financial matters and a will and/or living trust.
A durable power of attorney for health care decisions will designate someone to make medical decisions for your parent when she cannot speak for herself or make appropriate health care choices. This document should name someone your parent trusts to make medical and life-or-death choices, including life support, resuscitation, feeding tubes and hydration. Your parent should have a candid conversation with the designated decision-maker to make her wishes and convictions known. She can change or revoke this document at any time, as long as she is competent.
With a durable power of attorney for financial matters, someone can manage your parent’s business and financial affairs for him. The power of attorney should be durable; otherwise, it will expire when your parent loses legal capacity. He can change or revoke this document at any time if he is legally competent.
Your parent must make a will and/or living trust while she is still legally competent, because she cannot make a valid will once she becomes incompetent. Both a will and a living trust allow her to decide who will inherit which items from her, but a living trust can also designate a trustee who can manage her financial and business matters, while she is still alive. The living trust can specify that the trustee’s authority will continue, in the event of your parent’s incapacity or death.
If your parent has lost legal capacity due to dementia or other health issues and he did not prepare the documents discussed above while he was competent, you may need to get a guardianship and conservatorship over him. A guardianship lets you take care of his daily needs, such as where he lives and the medical care he receives. A conservatorship empowers you to take care of his financial matters.
The court must declare him incompetent before it can grant a guardianship or conservatorship. These legal actions are expensive and can take several months or longer. It is better to get his documents completed, while he still has legal capacity.
This posting discusses the general law, and the law in your state can vary. Talk with an elder law attorney in your area.
Alzheimer’s Association. “Planning Ahead.” (accessed November 16, 2017) https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-financial-legal-planning.asp
Money. “5 Essential Documents for Protecting a Loved One with Dementia.” (accessed November 16, 2017) http://time.com/money/4127552/dementia-care-legal-documents-need/
FindLaw. “Legal Issues: Caring for Parents with Dementia.” (accessed November 16, 2017) http://elder.findlaw.com/elder-care-law/legal-issues-caring-for-parents-with-dementia.html