I am not a legal scholar, but I agree with Nina's assessment. My mom was exhibiting some mild cognitive impairment when she signed all of her legal documents but was able to function. I think that those documents would have held up if challenged. However, if we waited just a couple of years longer, we would have been in trouble since her dementia worsened considerably.
Take care and keep us posted!
I would really say that it depends on the stage. Generally speaking, if it is early stage or undiagnosed, the person may be able to sign anything legally. e.g., my late FIL was in early stage of Alzheimer's back in 2004 but he was not diagnosed. He was able to sign the POA and health directive at that time. Later on, when he was in moderate stage, he could still sign but was not clear (e.g. signed the Christmas cards.)
Strictly speaking, when the person is incompetent or in late moderate stage, he or she should not sign for anything legal. The legal documents may be claimed illegal if the officer finds out that the person who signs is incompetent. That is, if the officer calls the patient and he or she would not understand.
That is why the POA needs to be set up early.
First, given the individual’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to determine if he/she has the cognitive capacity to participate in the decision-making process. I would suggest that a psychiatrist evaluate the individual to see if she/he is incapacitated, which means that legally the person would be unable to sign a Power of Attorney. This document needs to be established when an individual has the cognitive ability to do so. A Power of Attorney is a written document that allows another person to make financial and personal decisions for an incapacitated person in the event of a physical or mental disability. Different states have varying rules or protocols regarding Power of Attorney paperwork.
In general, an individual with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia may no longer have the capacity to sign important legal documents such as a living will, health care proxy and a power of attorney. The alternative is a guardianship proceeding. A guardian is a person, institute or agency appointed by a court to manage another person's affairs. Laws vary by state, but in most areas it must be demonstrated that the person with a disability lacks the capacity to understand or communicate decisions involving personal and financial matters. The proceeding is a legal process wherein an individual sues another individual for the legal right to make decisions regarding his "person" and "property." You can begin by visiting the Web site for the National Legal Resource Center at www.nlrc.aoa.gov.
It appears that you are in need of legal guidance. I suggest you hire an elder law attorney; these lawyers specialize in estate planning, benefits enrollment and many other legal matters related to finances and decision-making. Elder law attorneys can be found in the local phonebook or on the Web site of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (www.naela.org ). Many communities also have programs that offer free legal advice and assistance through various volunteer groups. The local Bar Association in each state will have further information on such programs. The American Bar Association can provide referrals to local groups in each state (www.abanet.org)
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