What options exist for a spouse of a dementia patient needing to make financial and healthcare decisions without a power of attorney?

Tkwon asked...

If a patient with dementia is not competent to sign a power of attorney, what other options does a spouse have to be able to make financial and health care decisions for that person?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Practically speaking, in some situations, a spouse need not take any additional steps to make such decisions. This is especially true if most financial accounts are held jointly—and if the doctors and other health care providers are turning regularly to the spouse for advice and consent on the patient's care.

But if the spouse is running into problems with difficult doctors or being denied access to financial accounts and records, the best option may be to seek a guardianship or conservatorship, which would give him or her the formal legal authority to supervise the patient’s care and financial arrangements.

To begin the process, a petition must be filed in the local probate court and evidence presented that the spouse can no longer manage these matters competently. Check to see whether the local probate court has a website or self-help law center that will give you background information and guidance in this matter. Many of them are quite comprehensive, making it possible to handle the entire matter alone, without investing the time and expense in hiring a lawyer.