Dementia and Powers of Attorney

Tools to help families with practical considerations.

Half a million women in the UK are currently living with dementia. A slightly smaller number of men. Many of these have families whose lives are affected dramatically by the need to care for their relatives. Although dementia affects more women than men, it doesn’t particularly discriminate. Certainly not on the grounds of background, education, lifestyle or status (alzheimer’s research UK).

Dementia is a really sensitive subject, partly because of the fear it instils in many of us, whether we have seen the suffering first hand or not.

A new research project is looking for volunteers, those currently well and those suffering from dementia can join the research project and help in the search for better treatments and ultimately a cure.

See more information at

For families or patients enduring the trauma of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, it is understandable that the estate planning side of things is overlooked. It can’t cure, can’t ease the emotional or physical pain and can’t make families whole again. It is also something none of us really like to think about.

On a practical level there are tools which can help although often these aren’t thought about until it is too late as they require mental capacity at a time that it can become questionable.

Power of attorney

Having a valid power of attorney in place can be of enormous practical help to families already under strain. A wealth power of attorney allows someone to choose trusted friends or family members to look after their finances. This can include the big decisions but can also be something as small as just being able to go into the bank and take out money on a patient’s behalf. We all know that large financial institutes can be frustrating enough to deal with for our own affairs but if can become more than frustrating when you try to do something on someone else’s behalf. This is not the time to have someone quote the Data Protection Act to you and tell you that you have no authority to act on behalf of the patient.

A health and welfare power of attorney allows families to make minor and major decisions about a patient’s care on their behalf, including choosing an appropriate care home if required.

These tools ideally need to be in place before a patient becomes unwell so that there is no argument about the mental ability of the patient. If left until later when capacity is questionable you will need to have a deputy to deal with someone’s affairs; a much more costly and prolonged action with ongoing costs and obligations.

Advance Directives

Sometimes called “living wills”, these allow you to make decisions about your healthcare before you become unwell. You can decide while you are able to about future treatments, whether you wish to be resuscitated, whether you wish to be artificially kept alive and many other health decisions. From a family point of view there can be some comfort in knowing the patient’s wishes clearly. Anyone who has been in the position of consulting with doctors about treatments for a family member will know the distress this can cause. Understanding properly how a patient wants to be treated can provide a level of reassurance to some. In relation to dementia this again needs to be in place before mental capacity is lost. However, some thought in advance can mean there is a way to have an element of control over our own care towards the end of life.

Care Costs

There is a real caution here, which is to be careful who you trust. There are still people advertising services which claim to fully protect your house from the possibility of being used to pay for care home fees if you are unable to look after yourself. Invariably these will fall foul of the laws regarding deliberate deprivation of assets and therefore aren’t worth your time and money. This requires a detailed article of its own for proper explanation. The good news is that there are some small changes you can make which at least minimise the amount of your equity which can be used to fund a care home place. Even better, they are legal and inexpensive. Again, some thought is required in advance but again, a useful tool for anyone concerned about the risk of dementia.


So many of us put off making a will even when we understand that it can make life easier for those left behind, prevent family arguments, sometimes keep the tax man at bay and generally allow us to direct our own hard-earned property to where we would like it to go.

A vital element for writing a will is that you must have mental capacity. Although suffering from dementia does not always mean that a person does not have sufficient capacity to make a will, each case will be different. If capacity is questionable in any way, doctors will need to provide reports and there will be more work and cost involved for any legal professionals helping with the will.

It is much easier all round to have an up to date will in place at all times so that the question of capacity doesn’t rear its head.

In short, nothing a will writer or estate planner can do will take away the immense pain and family pressure associated with dementia. However, given the numbers of people suffering from the condition, a little thought in advance may well be able to ease at least one or two worries.