How to Obtain a Power of Attorney for an Alzheimer's Parent

By Christine Funk, J.D.

How to Obtain a Power of Attorney for an Alzheimer's Parent

By Christine Funk, J.D.

As advances in medicine increase our life span, the number of adults who develop Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia grows. Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 47 million people suffer from dementia conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and three times that many people will suffer symptoms of dementia by 2050.

Elderly woman holding hands with a younger woman

When a parent or other loved one receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, or if they show signs of the onset of the disease, it is time to start planning. At some point, dementia may prevent a person from being considered legally competent. It's a good idea to put plans in place before the dementia has advanced to the point at which a diagnosed person can no longer make decisions for themselves.

1. Learn about the signs and symptoms of dementia.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. If someone exhibits any one of these signs or symptoms, they should make an appointment with their doctor immediately. They include:

  • Memory loss that's disruptive to daily life
  • Difficulty planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion about location or the passage of time
  • Difficulty with spatial relationships or understanding visual images
  • New challenges when speaking or writing words
  • Misplacing things, coupled with an inability to retrace one's steps
  • Decreased judgment or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from social activities or work
  • Changes in mood and personality

2. Make an appointment with a doctor.

If you observe the above symptoms, make an appointment with the person's general practitioner. Make sure a competent adult who can communicate with the doctor accompanies the person showing signs and symptoms. Be prepared to provide concrete examples of the signs or symptoms observed.

The physician may treat the patient themselves, or they may refer the patient to a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. If the patient receives a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's disease, it's time to make a legal plan.

3. Locate an elder law attorney.

There are many different ways to locate an attorney who specializes in elder law. You can contact the local bar association for a referral, search the web, or ask friends and family for a referral. Choose an attorney, and make an appointment. Make certain the attorney knows that a dementia diagnosis has created a need for making a legal plan. The plan should include decisions about long-term care and health care, finances, and who will make later decisions on behalf of the person with dementia. The attorney may have paperwork to fill out prior to the appointment. They may require a note from the treating physician that indicates the individual's level of competency.

4. Meet with the attorney.

During the meeting, expect the attorney to ask the diagnosed person questions to assess their competency. A power of attorney signed by an incompetent principal, or person granting authority, is worthless. If the attorney finds the principal competent, the parties can sign the power of attorney. If the attorney has concerns about the principal's competence, they might want to discuss guardianship proceedings.

5. Retain copies of the power of attorney.

The agent, or person receiving power of attorney, should keep the original document in a safe place. The principal should also keep a copy, and the lawyer will likely retain a copy for their records. Ask the lawyer if you need to file the power of attorney with the court or take any other steps, as these laws vary by jurisdiction. Laws that involve property also vary; if the agent will sell or lease property owned by the principal, discuss these matters with the attorney.

When a parent or other loved one develops Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, it's important to make plans about their legal, financial, and medical future. A time will likely come when the person cannot make their own decisions. Drafting a power of attorney can be the answer. Before approaching a lawyer about creating the document, make sure your parent sees a doctor for a diagnosis and an evaluation of their competency.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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