When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, legal issues are probably the last thing on anyone’s mind. But because dementia will eventually render them unable to make financial and medical decisions, the Alzheimer’s Association urges families to begin legal planning right away.

Here are the key terms you will encounter as you prepare for the future:

Dementia patients should appoint a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), a responsible person to act as their Agent in financial and legal matters. This legal document gives the agent the immediate authority to manage banking and investments, sell property, and more.

Advance Directives allow the Alzheimer’s patient to take an active role in their end-of-life planning. These are written documents that express their wishes related to their health care.

An important advance directive is the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOA-HC), which names the person chosen to make decisions for your loved one when they no longer can. In Michigan, this person is known as the Patient Advocate. Michigan law also allows patient advocates to make decisions about mental health care and to donate organs upon death.

Another advance directive is a Living Will, a document that communicates a patient’s intentions about whether they should be kept on life-support. This also grants the patient advocate authority to make this decision. Michigan is one of three states that do not consider a living will legally binding, but can be useful to the patient advocate when making end-of-life decisions.

A DNR, short for “do not resuscitate,” is a medical form informing medical personnel not to perform CPR if the patient’s heart stops. A copy should be given to physicians and caregivers. Michigan law states that DNR orders are only valid when the patient is at home or in an assisted-living facility. Hospitals and nursing homes may or may not honor the document, depending on their policies.

Sometimes these directives are not enough to ensure the Alzheimer’s patient is healthy and safe, and the caregiver must seek Guardianship from a judge. This requires filing a petition in probate court to take power over a patient’s financial, medical and other life decisions as guardian or Conservator.

For more information about planning ahead, visit the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center