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Can a Dementia Patient Sign Legal Documents?

February 20, 2023 • | Curran Estate & Elder Law, PLLC
Families and their loved ones with dementia need to start advance care planning after receiving a diagnosis of dementia. Medical experts and attorneys can help your loved one to be involved in their care planning.

Once a diagnosis of dementia has been received, families need to immediately begin advance care planning, as explained in a recent article titled “Can Someone With Dementia Sign Legal Documents” from Health News. Depending on their medical condition, some patients with dementia, particularly in early stages, may be capable of making their own decisions regarding legal decisions. However, discussions must begin early, so the person can be involved and understand the planning process.

When family members don’t know the wishes of their loved ones, they are more likely to experience distress and difficulties in making decisions. Families report feelings of guilt, self-doubt and stress while making advance care decisions with no input from their loved ones.

Laws concerning advance care vary from state to state. An elder law attorney can help older adults interpret state laws, plan how their wishes will be carried out and understand financial options.

Advance care planning focuses on both long-term care and planning for funeral arrangements. These documents typically include a Durable Financial Power of Attorney, a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney, and a Living Will.  Depending on state law, there may also be a MOLST document, short for Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment.

The Durable Financial Power of Attorney designates Agents who can handle all financial matters when the principal is no longer able to do so.  The Durable Health Care Power of Attorney names another person or people who can serve as a surrogate for the person with dementia, if and when the person is not able to make informed health care decisions for themselves for positive care and positive treatment.

A Living Will states a person’s wishes for end-of-life treatment. This documents their views about specific medical procedures including, but not limited to, cardiac resuscitation, mechanical respiration, dialysis, tube feeding or blood transfusions, when the person is permanently unconscious or in an end-stage medical condition and can no longer speak for himself/herself.  This document allows the families to make treatment decisions based on what their loved one wanted.

Planning for a funeral is a difficult task. However, it will alleviate stress and possible guilt in the future. People with dementia can tell their loved ones in advance what they want regarding a funeral or memorial service, burial, or cremation. If any arrangements are already in place, such as the purchase of a burial plot, providing details to family members will make it easier to manage.

These and other documents may be able to be signed by someone with dementia.  You should speak with an elder law attorney as early as possible to discuss capacity and have these documents put into place.

Advance care planning can be a sensitive topic but seeking legal advice early on is useful, so the family can focus on making sure their loved one has the care they want. Involving the person with dementia in the process is respectful. An elder lawyer attorney will be able to guide the family to ensure planning is done properly.

Reference: Health News (Jan. 11, 2023) “Can Someone With Dementia Sign Legal Documents”

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