As your loved one ages, it can be difficult to balance their independence while also protecting them from consequences of their health issues, especially for those with cognitive disorders. Advance directives can help prioritize your loved one’s wishes as their health changes or declines. Notably, executing a power of attorney, or POA, can ensure your loved one is well taken care of as they age. Here is a quick guide to obtaining a power of attorney for dementia patients.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a document that allows a person (the “principal”) to grant another person (the “agent” or “attorney in fact”) the power to make decisions on their behalf. While there are different types of POAs, individuals with dementia will most likely want to choose a durable power of attorney (or durable healthcare power of attorney). 

This document continues to be valid after the principal is no longer able to make decisions independently. The agent is then able to manage their loved one’s affairs and ensure they are well cared for. POAs can grant permission to the trusted individual to make choices regarding their loved one’s financial matters, medical decisions, and other legal affairs. Keep in mind that the POA only begins when a patient is deemed incapacitated. Therefore, your loved one will be able to maintain their autonomy for as long as possible.

Why Should I Obtain a POA?

If you or your loved one face dementia, planning for the future is essential. Obtaining important legal documents like a power of attorney can help carry out the wishes of the person with dementia. As their condition progresses, it will be important that their healthcare and finances are legally in the hands of someone they trust. Taking time to name an agent and secure documentation can help guide a person’s care and avoid any legal headaches later on.

Who Can be Named as an Agent?

It’s imperative to choose the agent or attorney-in-fact carefully. The agent should be someone close to the principal. This is frequently a spouse, adult child, or another close family member. The agent should be trustworthy and willing to make decisions by weighing the principal’s values, wishes, and best interests. Overall, the agent must understand and be willing to take on the responsibility as they have the authority over their loved one’s finances, healthcare, and general livelihood. 

When Should I Obtain a POA?

The short answer to this is as soon as possible. Experts recommend establishing a power of attorney for an aging adult well before they need it. Individuals with dementia should plan to set-up their POA before their condition declines. The document must be discussed, agreed upon, and signed while the principal is still cognitively intact. 

Make sure to involve your loved one (the principal) in the planning while they still can understand the decisions they’re making about their future. Unfortunately, if the individual is no longer cognitively aware or unable to make their own decisions, the process becomes more complicated. Only a court order can grant the POA after a doctor assesses the individual’s level of cognition.

How Do I Obtain a POA?

The execution of a POA must be in writing and signed by both the principal and agent. Therefore, you will first have to get your loved one on board with the idea of a power of attorney. Use the following steps: 

  • Be sure to broach the subject calmly. 
  • Clearly explain what a POA is why it is important. 
  • Allow them some time to process the situation and decision (but not too much time as to put it off). 
  • Emphasize that their best interests will be carried out in accordance with their personal values. 
  • Involve them in the process as much as possible, so they can understand and feel confident about the decision. 

Once your loved one agrees upon their agent, research how to obtain a POA in your state. While the process may vary slightly, most states have an easily accessible form. Consult a lawyer or long-term care professional if you need help with the process. The form should be kept in a safe yet accessible location.

Power of Attorney and Dementia Patients

Making decisions for a loved one with dementia can be difficult for families, but having open conversations early on ensures everyone is on the same page. Moreover, completing the power of attorney process can help you avoid potentially challenging situations. Your family will benefit from knowing that a POA was settled while your loved one still held agency over their decisions. Additionally, the individual with dementia will find peace knowing that someone they love and trust will look after them.