Caring for an aging loved one is often an emotional experience. Aging often comes with a loss of memory, which can be devastating for families and confusing for seniors. It becomes even more complicated with legal matters, as a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s can render an individual legally incompetent in the eyes of the law.

A study on memory loss recently discovered that Alzheimer’s can begin to change one’s brain 20 years before symptoms ever manifest. Thankfully, there are several steps one can take to prepare for late-in-life legal decisions.

Legal preparations for aging adults

It is often that children of parents with dementia end up making decisions on their behalf. For legal considerations, like the drawing of a will or establishing power of attorney, these decisions may have serious implications. Each state has different legal standards for determining mental competence with dementia, but most states consider adults showing early symptoms as legally competent. However, many families take these developments as a sign to begin drafting end-of-life estate plans like a will or establishing a power of attorney.

A durable power of attorney

A durable power of attorney designates another individual, usually a family member or lawyer, to make legal decisions on one’s behalf. Once dementia sets in, having a legal proxy will ensure a trusted individual makes all financial and health decisions. Remember, one must establish a durable power of attorney before considered mentally incompetent by the state. Otherwise, someone with plans to dispute end-of-life decision making may challenge the designation.

Draft a will

Experts recommend that every adult over the age of 18 should have a will. For middle-aged adults experiencing memory loss, sooner is better. Collaboratively drafting a will with family members can help collect the necessary inventory of assets, deeds, tax documents, debt and insurance policies. A will is also an opportunity for an aging adult to express any end-of-life medical preferences or exclusions.

Necessary legal counsel

End-of-life planning is an emotional and legally complicated experience. Many families secure the services of a local lawyer experienced with elder law to help ensure these documents are all in order. Legal help may also allow families to focus on each other and prioritize the wishes of an aging family member.