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Important Legal Documents to Have Before Dementia Sets In 

The Law Offices of Bruce Peotter March 22, 2023

Man losing parts of head as symbol of memory lossA dementia diagnosis can be a shock to both the individual and their family. In addition to the emotional challenges, there are also many legal and financial considerations to take into account. 

When someone is diagnosed with a condition like dementia that affects their cognition, they may no longer have the legal capacity to make important decisions on their own. In this case, it is important to create an estate plan so that someone else can act on their behalf when needed. 

If you or a loved one was diagnosed with dementia, you might want to consider working with an estate planning attorney to provide you with peace of mind. Our experienced attorney at The Law Offices of Bruce Peotter helps individuals and families create estate plans tailored to their specific circumstances and needs. With offices in Englewood, Colorado, and Tustin, California, we serve clients throughout the two states, including communities in and around Denver and all of Orange County in California.  

Cognitive Impairment and Legal Capacity 

When a person’s cognitive functioning changes, so does their legal capacity to make decisions about their assets and personal care.  

Legal capacity is the ability to understand the meaning of a document or contract and make decisions that reflect your own free will. The law considers people over 18 years of age as legally capable, unless proven otherwise.  

Dementia is a progressive disorder that affects memory and other cognitive functions such as language, problem-solving skills, physical coordination, decision-making abilities, and judgment. As the symptoms worsen over time, these areas of mental functioning become increasingly impaired which can affect the individual’s ability to make sound decisions.  

This is why it is so important for those living with dementia to create an estate plan while they still have legal capacity in order to ensure their wishes are respected in the future.  

Important Documents to Have in Place  

Dementia can be a difficult diagnosis for both the individual and their family, but it is important to have the proper legal documents in place before dementia sets in to make sure that everyone's wishes are respected and followed. A person diagnosed with dementia can benefit from having the following documents in place as part of their estate plan:   

  • Power of attorney for healthcare. A power of attorney for healthcare is a legal document that allows an individual to name someone else (known as a “proxy” or “agent”) to make decisions about their medical care if they are unable to do so themselves.  

  • Standard will. A standard will is a legal document that allows an individual to specify how they would like their assets to be distributed after their death.  

  • Living trust. A living trust is a legal document that allows an individual to specify how they would like their assets to be managed and distributed while they are alive and after their death.  

  • Guardianship/conservatorship. Guardianship or conservatorship is a legal arrangement wherein a court appoints an individual (known as a “guardian” or “conservator”) to make decisions on behalf of another individual who is unable to do so themselves due to incapacity or disability.  

  • Advance directive. An advance directive is a legal document that allows an individual to specify their preferences for medical treatment in the event that they are unable to communicate those preferences themselves. 

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, talk to an attorney about which of these documents makes sense for your situation. 

The Importance of Working With an Estate Planning Attorney 

Because preparing an estate plan for someone living with dementia can be complicated due to various laws governing wills and trusts, it is best to work with an attorney who specializes in elder law and has experience working with individuals who have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  

An attorney can help you navigate through complex laws related to end-of-life planning options such as drafting a standard or living will, creating an advance directive, appointing guardianship for medical decisions, and setting up trusts in order to ensure that finances are managed properly during life and after death. 

Proactive Legal Guidance 

Creating an estate plan when living with dementia can be complicated but working closely with a knowledgeable attorney can help simplify the process by having valuable guidance throughout each step of the way. Our attorney at The Law Offices of Bruce Peotter provides proactive legal guidance to clients with dementia or those whose family members were diagnosed with this condition. Contact us today to talk about your particular case during a free case review.