A diagnosis of dementia can be a shocking thing for a family to manage. Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia come with a huge variety of difficult things to deal with, from processing emotions to planning care strategies. It also means that a family must think very carefully about the way forward, what the patient’s needs are going to be in the future, and how to navigate tricky issues surrounding consent, treatment, and other legal issues.
One thing that is vital to address from the very beginning of a diagnosis of dementia is power of attorney. Due to the nature of Alzheimer’s disease, making decisions will become increasingly difficult for a patient as the condition progresses and worsens, and their ability to be consistent when it comes to their wishes will diminish.
As a result, dealing with the issue of power of attorney at the outset makes a huge difference when it comes to complex, difficult, and emotionally overwhelming decisions that may need to be made later on down the line. In this article we will explore what power of attorney is, who it can be granted to, and why it is so important.
What is a power of attorney?
At a certain point, most people with dementia will get to a stage where they will no longer have the mental capacity to make significant decisions for themselves. At this point, it is important that a family member or carer is empowered, legally, to make these decisions for them.
Power of attorney means picking someone who will have the legal power to make binding choices for you, when it comes to things like treatment, disposal of assets, wills, and so on.
Power of attorney can cover two things; property and finances, and healthcare. For many people with dementia, one person (usually a close relative) will have combined power of attorney for both of these, but they can be split between people as well.
What are the different types of power of attorney?
As mentioned above, there are two types of power of attorney, property and financial, and health and welfare.
Property and financial power of attorney
Power of attorney for property and financial affairs covers an array of legal and financial decisions including:
- Selling a house
- Paying the mortgage
- Paying bills and managing money
- Managing bank accounts
- Arranging repairs to a property
- Collecting benefits or a pension
Health and welfare power of attorney
Power of attorney for health and welfare affairs is concerned with medical issues, treatment, and ongoing care, and can include:
- Medical treatment
- Care facilities
- Choosing doctors
- Where the patient should live
- Ongoing care requirements
- What they should eat
- Who they should have contact with
- What kind of social activities they should take part in
Who can be granted power of attorney?
Legally, anyone over the age of 18 can be granted power of attorney, as long as they are not bankrupt. In practice, it is usually wise to appoint a family member or close personal friend - someone who you can trust to have your best interests at heart, and to carry out your wishes in the spirit in which you intended.
You can appoint more than one person to have power of attorney - either splitting the two separate types between two people, or granting power of attorney to multiple people for either or both roles. If this is the case, you will need to specify how they should work together, and who has overall responsibility.
When granting power of attorney, the person or people you pick should be those who know you well and understand your wishes, who are reliable and trustworthy, with the abilities to carry out the tasks required, and who have demonstrated that they are capable of managing their own finances and making good, sensible decisions about their own welfare.
When is the best time to grant power of attorney?
It is ideal to arrange a power of attorney document as soon as possible after a diagnosis of Azheimer’s disease or other type of dementia. At this point, the patient will still likely be in full possession of their mental faculties, and be completely able to make important decisions. They will be able to understand the decision and its ramifications, and approve and sign a legal document.
As dementia progresses, your loved ones may begin to deteriorate and exhibit decreased cognitive ability and function. At this point, granting or gaining power of attorney becomes far more complex, as the patient will no longer be able to fully understand what power of attorney means, and may not be of sound mind enough to give their consent.
There are legal means to get power of attorney from someone with dementia who is unable or unwilling to grant it due to their condition. However, this makes an already stressful and difficult process even more traumatic, and from an emotional and psychological wellbeing point of view, is best avoided. This is why earlier is better when it comes to obtaining or granting power of attorney.
Why is it important to have a power of attorney when you have dementia?
The main symptoms of dementia are well known - forgetfulness, memory loss, confusion, loss of mental faculties. Decision-making for people with dementia can be extremely tough, and making genuinely informed, important decisions about issues that will have significant ramifications will become increasingly problematic.
A power of attorney allows a caregiver, family member, or personal friend to take on these complex decisions, and gives them the legal power to manage the affairs of those who are unable to.
Not only is granting power of attorney a vital part of ensuring that logistical, legal, and administrative issues can be taken care of for a dementia patient, it also makes the job, and the life, of a family carer significantly easier.
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be immensely rewarding, but it is also a difficult and at times stressful task. Attempting to cope with the emotional weight of a loved one with dementia, fulfill their care needs, and manage their affairs without the legal means to do so is an unnecessary added burden for a carer, and one that a power of attorney can easily solve.
Answers to commonly asked questions about power of attorney
What if the person with dementia is not competent enough to grant power of attorney?
Sometimes a diagnosis comes too late, or a power of attorney is not granted soon enough, and by the time the issue arises the patient is no longer competent to grant it. At this point, the family or caregiver must apply to the courts for a conservatorship, or apply for power of attorney under the Mental Capacity Act .
The Mental Capacity Act protects people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions. It requires the family or caregiver to prove that the patient no longer has the capacity to make essential decisions for themselves.
What if the person is mentally competent but refuses to grant power of attorney?
If your loved one still possesses the mental faculties and judgment to make decisions for themselves but refuses to grant power of attorney, there is not much you can do from a legal standpoint. The patient is entitled to make their own decisions, and there is no responsibility for their decisions to have to be wise.
In this scenario, the best thing you can do is talk to your loved one, explaining the importance of power of attorney, setting out the benefits, and describing the complications that can arise if one is not granted.
What happens if you don’t grant power of attorney?
If your loved one does not grant power of attorney, then the matter will be referred to the courts. In court, the judge may decide to make the decision for themselves, or they will appoint someone known as a deputy. This person will take on the management of financial and property affairs, and will have the power to make health and welfare decisions on behalf of the patient, with regular reports to the courts. Not only does this come with a cost, but it means that an unknown, unfamiliar person will be making significant decisions about a family member.
Power of attorney is a vital, fundamental part of caring for someone with dementia. To find out more about this issue, and about dementia care in general, reach out to Senior Helpers. Our experts have vast experience in every aspect of caring for loved ones with dementia, and will be able to offer the support and assistance you need to ensure your family member is properly cared for every step of the way.