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Making Legal Decisions After a Dementia Diagnosis

Posted on December 29, 2008 by DementiaGuide

Making Legal Decisions After A Dementia Diagnosis

A dementia diagnosis is difficult news; for most individuals and families, the immediate concern is treatment. While legal issues may not be at the top of everyone's priority list, they are often a significant and time sensitive matter. Unpleasant as it may be, handling the legal affairs of a person with dementia is better attended to sooner than later. Steps should be taken, with the help of friends and family, to arrange for the person's health, wellbeing, and property.

Make Plans For Health Care

It's important to ensure that someone is attending to the person's health, even when they no longer can. A durable power of attorney for health care is one of the first documents that should be completed. It involves appointing an individual, most likely a family member or close friend, to make decisions for the person with dementia about their health care if and when the person can no longer make them for him or herself. The appointed individual will be responsible for making sure doctors and other health care providers honor the requests of the person with dementia when providing care.

A living will is another vital document that denotes a person's choices for future medical decisions. In the event of hospitalization, a living will expresses a person's wishes concerning life support and clarifies the type of care they prefer. It can consist of a few simple requests of may itemize preferences in great detail.

Take Care of the Will

No one likes to worry about finalizing a will, but it's critical for a person diagnosed with dementia to handle it a soon as possible. A will appoints an executor to manage a person's estate after death and names the estate's beneficiaries. If the person already has some kind of legal document delineating his or her wishes, it should be easier to finalize. If not, work with an attorney to draft something. As with health care plans, a person with dementia should draft a power of attorney naming someone to make financial decisions when he or she is no longer able. Likewise, a living trust can be created to appoint a trustee to administer property and investments while the person with dementia is still alive.

About Legal Capacity

Legal capacity is the ability to manage one's own affairs, and is required to sign official documents. Only a court can declare that a person with dementia is legally incapacitated. However, this decision does not always apply to financial and medical affairs uniformly. Specifically, clinical incapacity refers to the inability to make health care decisions exclusively. This occurs after an evaluation by a qualified doctor or health care practitioner, and is not necessarily a permanent decision. If a court finds a person with dementia to be of legal incapacity, a guardian or conservator is generally appointed to make decisions on the person's behalf.

After a dementia diagnosis, try to meet with a trusted attorney or find one that specializes in elder law. An attorney will be the best source of advice to the person with dementia and his or her family as they sort through legal paperwork.

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