When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, your priorities change. Life becomes about supporting that individual to the best of your abilities, making sure they remain cared for, loved and protected. As the dementia progresses, your role may grow.
Preparing for this situation is never easy. However, there are two legal tools that can provide peace of mind by ensuring your loved one continues to receive everything they need.
Durable power of attorney: the sooner the better
When an individual recognizes they may one day be unable to make decisions for themselves, a durable power of attorney should be considered. With this document, a capable adult can designate a trusted loved one to be their agent. If this person becomes incapacitated, the agent then assumes responsibility for certain life decisions, the limits of which are laid out in the power of attorney document.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of durable powers of attorney: medical and financial. These can be tailored to fit an individual’s goals.
A durable power of attorney is often an ideal option only when the individual with dementia is still capable of understanding and making decisions. This designation cannot be established following the person’s incapacitation.
Creating a durable power of attorney is a relatively quick process, remains private, helps prevent family disputes and can help ensure a loved one’s rights are protected long into the future.
When guardianship should be considered
Guardianship is also an option if you’re looking to take legal responsibility for a loved one’s well-being. Obtaining guardianship requires more involvement from the courts and additional work on your end.
A court must approve the appointment of a guardian for an adult, and will only do so under strict circumstances. Because guardianship involves transferring an individual’s decision-making rights to someone else, Colorado law takes such appointments very seriously. The court must believe the adult (known as the ward) is incapacitated, meaning they are unable to evaluate information or make decisions in a manner that will keep them safe and healthy.
In order to obtain guardianship over an incapacitated adult, you must file a petition and then adhere to the legal process that follows. This can take time, energy and resources to complete, which makes it a more difficult process than completing a durable power of attorney. However, if your loved one is already struggling, guardianship may be the only option.