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AARP recently did a study on what people’s perceptions were of dementia. There were many findings but a key finding was that people wanted to know early if they had a diagnosis so they could legally and financially plan.  

Planning can look like many things and look different when one person is the caregiver for the other. So here are some recommendations about steps to take. 

Power of attorney (POA):

POA allows one person to make decisions for another person. There are different types of POA forms but the standard durable POA can go into effect as soon as it is signed. It can be a financial POA, allowing financial decisions to be made; a healthcare POA, allowing medical decisions to be made; or both. 

While most spouses choose each other in the first iteration of a POA, as you age, it may be wiser to choose a younger person in case something happens to one or both of you. Without changes, a spouse with dementia could actually be the legal decision maker. Naming a secondary POA – a second person listed in case the first person can’t perform the duties – is also recommended. 

Living Will:

Living wills list various interventions you might want your named agent or proxy to take for you in case you cannot make choices for yourself. While they are legal documents, health care professionals do not always take them into account, which is why your proxy should be someone who will follow through for you. If your preferred proxy won’t, then choose another person. 

Last Will and Testament:

Contrary to popular opinion, a Will is not the most important document to have when you are an older adult – the POA is. But a will is still important, especially if you have no first degree relatives and you don’t want everything you own to go to the state upon your death. A will can be very simple but should be done. 

While there are internet forms that you can download and complete yourself, we recommend using an attorney who grasps the ins and out of the law of your state. We highly recommend an elder law attorney who really understands the situations you may find. Try the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Find A Lawyer website at or call us at 412-422-0400.