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Power of Attorney

Biggest Challenge: I need to know the steps one could take to get power of attorney over someone who is not mentally stable to take care of their affairs. What are the legal actions that have to be taken?


Response from DM:

Dear Katie,

When you are dealing with someone with a mental disorder who is not cognitively stable, several steps need to be addressed before any legal actions are taken. First, the person has to be professionally diagnosed with a mental disorder or dementia, depending on the specific case. Usually the elderly person’s primary physician, who has often known the person over a long period of time, will be the first to examine them. The doctor may then recommend additional testing as well as a second opinion from a psychiatrist or another professional deemed necessary. The next step is to deal with the diagnosis via any appropriate medication(s). Part of this process is to make sure that the elder is not experiencing any adverse side effects, which may be exacerbating the confusion or mental instability, from a particular medication or a combination of medications. Once it is thoroughly established that the elderly person has been properly diagnosed, and that all measures available to stabilize the individual have been exhausted, then other steps can be taken to help keep this senior safe and out of harm’s way.

Once it is established that the senior is no longer capable of caring for himself or herself, legal action can be taken for an appropriate individual to be given legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the individual, aka Power of Attorney. An elder care lawyer, an attorney who has been specially trained in elder issues, is usually best for this situation. There is a National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys  (http://www.naela.org), if you need help finding one. They usually charge by the hour and those fees can add up quickly, so make sure that you have an idea of what you want to accomplish before you make an appointment. The more prepared you are, the smoother the process will be. Do some research in advance, and have any questions or notes written out. It will also be worthwhile to find out if there is a flat rate for any particular services. Also consider that regulations may vary from state to state. Keep in mind that there may be many emotional issues around this subject, so you may want to have support for yourself, as well as for your senior, throughout this process. Thank you for trying to keep your elderly person safe.

Most sincerely,

Dr. Marion


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