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Important Documents

After receiving a diagnosis, it’s important to organize the documents you need to ensure your wishes for care are clearly understood and honored. It is critical to do this while the person is still able to participate in decision-making discussions.

Advanced Health Care Directive

A properly signed Advance Health Care Directive 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 person they trust with their healthcare decisions. Once appointed, this person can make medical decisions on another person's behalf including choices regarding healthcare providers, medical treatment, and, in the later stages of the disease, end-of-life decisions.

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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. 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 stationery stores or online may not be sufficient.


Some people are under the misconception that a will takes the place of Power of Attorney and an Advanced Health Care Directive. 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 healthcare 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 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.