Can a Person with Dementia Change Their Power of Attorney?

Dementia is a complex neurological disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. As the disease progresses, individuals with dementia may experience a decline in cognitive abilities, memory loss, and difficulties in decision-making. Given these challenges, it raises an important question: Can a person with dementia change their power of attorney? In this blog post, I will discuss the legal aspects surrounding power of attorney and delve into the intricacies of whether individuals with dementia possess the capacity to modify this critical document.

Understanding Power of Attorney

Power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that grants an appointed person, referred to as the agent or attorney-in-fact, the authority to make decisions on behalf of another individual, known as the principal. This document is crucial, as it enables the agent to act in the best interests of the principal, particularly when the principal is unable to make decisions independently.

Capacity and Decision-Making

Capacity refers to an individual’s ability to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of their decisions. It is a fundamental requirement for executing legal documents, including power of attorney. However, in the context of dementia, capacity can be a complex issue.

Dementia is a progressive condition that affects cognitive abilities, including memory, judgment, and reasoning. As the disease advances, individuals may experience difficulties in comprehending complex legal concepts or fully understanding the implications of their decisions. Consequently, it can be challenging to determine whether a person with dementia possesses the capacity to change their power of attorney.

Assessing Capacity in Dementia

When it comes to assessing capacity, the legal system often requires evidence that the individual comprehends the nature and effect of the decision they are making. The capacity assessment should focus on the person’s ability to understand relevant information, appreciate the consequences of their decision, and communicate their wishes.

In cases involving dementia, healthcare professionals, such as geriatricians, psychiatrists, or neuropsychologists, are often involved in evaluating an individual’s cognitive abilities and capacity. These assessments typically involve interviews, cognitive tests, and observations to gauge the person’s understanding and decision-making capacity.

It is important to note that capacity is decision-specific, meaning an individual with dementia may have the capacity to make some decisions while lacking capacity in other areas. Therefore, it is essential to assess capacity on a case-by-case basis, specifically in relation to changing power of attorney.

Presumption of Capacity

In the absence of clear evidence indicating a lack of capacity, the legal system generally presumes that an individual has the capacity to make decisions, including modifying their power of attorney. This presumption upholds the principle of autonomy and ensures that individuals with dementia are not unfairly stripped of their rights.

However, if there are concerns about an individual’s capacity, it may be necessary to involve a legal professional to determine the most appropriate course of action. Legal advice can help navigate the complexities surrounding dementia, capacity assessments, and power of attorney.

Safeguarding the Interests of the Person with Dementia

While individuals with dementia may have the right to change their power of attorney, it is crucial to ensure their best interests are protected. The legal system recognizes the vulnerability of individuals with cognitive impairments and aims to safeguard their rights through various measures.

One such measure involves appointing an independent advocate or guardian ad litem to represent the person’s interests during legal proceedings. This ensures that the decision-making process remains fair and unbiased, taking into account the unique circumstances and needs of the individual with dementia.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Given the complexity of legal matters surrounding power of attorney and dementia, it is advisable to seek legal guidance to navigate this challenging terrain. Consulting an experienced attorney who specializes in elder law or estate planning can provide valuable insights and ensure that the rights and interests of the person with dementia are protected.

Can a person with advanced dementia understand the legal implications of changing their power of attorney?

Understanding the legal implications of changing power of attorney can be challenging for a person with advanced dementia. Dementia is a progressive neurological disorder that affects cognitive abilities, memory, and reasoning skills. As the disease progresses, individuals with advanced dementia may struggle to comprehend complex legal concepts and make informed decisions. 

Therefore, it is crucial to consider the individual’s cognitive capacity and consult with medical professionals and legal experts to determine their ability to understand the consequences of changing their power of attorney.

One key factor to assess is the person’s ability to comprehend information and retain it. In advanced stages of dementia, individuals may have difficulty processing new information and retaining it in their memory. They may have trouble following conversations, understanding complex legal terms, or recalling recent events. 

For example, if a person with advanced dementia is presented with legal documents outlining the implications of changing their power of attorney, they may struggle to grasp the content, leading to confusion and potential misinterpretation.

Another important consideration is the person’s capacity for reasoning and decision-making. Dementia can impair executive functions such as judgment and problem-solving skills. A person with advanced dementia may struggle to evaluate the long-term consequences of changing their power of attorney or compare different options objectively. 

Their decision-making abilities may be influenced by confusion, agitation, or disorientation, making it difficult for them to fully comprehend the potential legal ramifications of their choices.

Furthermore, communication challenges can impede the person’s ability to express their wishes clearly and effectively. Individuals with advanced dementia may have difficulty articulating their thoughts and preferences, which can hinder their ability to communicate their desires regarding the power of attorney. Even if they express a preference at a given moment, it may not reflect their long-term wishes due to the fluctuating nature of dementia symptoms.

Given these complexities, it is essential to involve medical professionals and legal experts in assessing the person’s cognitive capacity. Geriatricians, neurologists, and psychiatrists can evaluate the individual’s cognitive functioning, provide insights into their decision-making abilities, and offer guidance on appropriate legal measures. 

Legal experts specializing in elder law can assist in navigating the complex legal requirements for changing power of attorney, ensuring that all necessary documentation is completed correctly and ethically.


The question of whether a person with dementia can change their power of attorney depends on their capacity to understand the nature and consequences of their decisions. While individuals with dementia have the right to modify their power of attorney, capacity assessments and legal safeguards play a vital role in ensuring the person’s best interests are protected. Seeking legal advice and involving healthcare professionals in capacity assessments can help navigate the complexities of dementia and power of attorney.

Have you had any experience with power of attorney and dementia? We would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments section below.

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