Dementia is a crippling disorder that can make it impossible for an individual to manage their finances and live an independent life. When a loved one begins to exhibit the early symptoms of cognitive decline, you must act fast to ensure their assets stay safe and secure. California Estate Planning Lawyer Kavesh Minor & Otis

Time Matters When a Loved One Is Diagnosed With Dementia 

Everyone’s estate plan should include provisions that protect against mental and physical incapacity. However, early planning is especially critical for people who may have dementia. This is because California, like most other states, does not allow people who lack contractual capacity to sign important estate planning documents.

California assumes that most adults—even those with neurobiological diseases and cognitive disorders—have contractual capacity.

However, contractual capacity has limitations. In order to have contractual capacity, a person must:

  • Be of sound mind
  • Understand the risks, benefits, and consequences of their decisions

California’s probate identifies warning signs that a person might lack contractual capacity. They include deficits of:

  • Alertness and attention
  • The ability to process and remember information
  • The ability to adequately understand and communicate with other people
  • The ability to understand quantities
  • The ability to act in accordance with one’s own self-interest

Using a Power of Attorney for Cognitive Decline

Medical professionals have yet to identify any long-term solution for diagnosed dementia. While the condition impacts individuals differently, it usually leads to an overall decline in cognition. A person with dementia may begin experiencing problems like memory loss, poor judgment, and an inability to responsibly handle financial affairs.

However, a dementia diagnosis does not mean that your loved one is stripped of their rights. California law allows people of reasonably sound mind to delegate a trusted friend or relative the durable power of attorney.

The durable power of attorney is a special legal document that lets another person manage a loved one’s finances if they become mentally or physically incapacitated. An individual delegated the power of attorney could:

  • Pay their loved one’s bills
  • File taxes
  • Manage bank accounts and investment portfolios
  • Allocate money toward the beneficiary’s medical care
  • Prevent a relative with dementia from entering into a predatory financial agreement
  • Apply for government benefits

In order to legally grant someone the power of attorney, the grantor should:

  • Contact an estate planning attorney to create a power of attorney document
  • Sign the power of attorney in front of two witnesses or in the presence of a notary public
  • Provide the attorney, Land Records Office, and the creator’s financial institution with a copy of the power of attorney paperwork

Establishing power of attorney is critical for people with dementia. If they do not delegate the power of attorney when they are still of reasonably sound mind, their family members could be forced to go to court and claim guardianship when their symptoms worsen and their condition deteriorates. This process can be time-consuming and is often costly.

Living Wills and Dementia

People who have dementia may also benefit from the creation of a living will. A living will allows a California resident to appoint a trusted friend, relative, or attorney the power to make healthcare-related decisions on their behalf, including:

  • What sort of medical treatment the creator should—or should not—receive if they are too sick or injured to express their wishes
  • Enforcement of a “do-not-resuscitate” order, which will prevent medical professionals from attempting to revive a person whose breathing or heartbeat stops
  • What procedures and medications should be used or prioritized in the event of an emergency or during routine care

When someone begins experiencing dementia symptoms, a living will provides them with the means to exercise control over their future.

Your California estate planning attorney could help your family create a living will that provides for a loved one’s independence and ensures their wishes will always be respected, even when they are unable to make their own decisions.

Do You Need to Speak With an Attorney About Estate Planning?

If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer please contact us online or call us directly at 800.756.5596 to first register for one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a special discount for our estate planning services should you decide to make a free appointment at the conclusion of the seminar and choose to proceed with us. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills, and Pasadena.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.