Health Care Proxy
A properly signed Health Care Proxy gives caregivers the legal authority to make medical decisions. As soon as possible after diagnosis, a person with dementia should consider their wishes for future treatment and designate a Health Care Proxy. Once appointed, a Health Care Proxy can make medical decisions on another person's behalf, including: choices regarding health care providers, medical treatment, and, in the later stages of the disease, end-of-life decisions. The Health Care Proxy form comes into affect when a physician determines that the person with dementia no longer has the capacity to make medical decisions.
Durable Power of Attorney
This is a legal document that enables an individual with dementia to authorize a trusted person(s) to make legal and financial decisions on his or her behalf. You do not have to appoint a family member although many people do, and you can appoint more than one individual. While there are different types of Powers of Attorney, most people sign a Durable Power of Attorney because it remains in effect after the person with dementia can no longer make financial decisions. A Durable Power of Attorney may help avoid a time-consuming and expensive guardianship proceeding in the future. It is strongly recommended that an attorney draft the Durable Power of Attorney. Forms found in stationary stores may not be sufficient.
Some people are under the misconception that a will takes the place of Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. However, this is not the case. The purpose of a will is to designate how a person's assets will be distributed upon his or her death. It cannot be used to communicate health care preferences or manage a person's finances while they are alive. Wills are important, and can give an individual peace of mind that his/her wishes will be fulfilled after they die. It is recommended that a will be drafted by an attorney experienced with elder law.
Important Document Checklist
Caregivers should compile important documents pertaining to the person with dementia prior to meeting with an attorney. Your first telephone call to an attorney's office should be an indication of how you will be treated there. You should always speak directly to an attorney, and the goals as well as the fees for the consultation should be clearly outlined.
- Five wishes - Five Wishes has become America’s most popular living will because it is written in everyday language and helps start and structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness.
- Checklist for applying for social security disability and supplemental security income benefits due to Early-onset Alzheimer's disease (PDF)