If an aging loved one or a family member living with a disability has recently been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, families often begin to consider what legal and financial planning they need to do to prepare for the journey ahead. The legal terminology can make the process more difficult. We pulled together some of the questions we most commonly receive from caregivers in Illinois and Missouri to help you get started. Keep in mind, laws and terminology can vary by state.

Q: What is a Guardianship?

A: Guardianship is a legal right granted to an individual to be responsible for the food, health care, housing, and other necessities of an individual deemed fully or partially incapable of providing these necessities for himself. In some states a guardianship is called a “conservatorship of the person.”

Q: What is a Conservatorship?

A: Where a guardianship gives an individual responsibility for food, health care, housing and necessities, a conservatorship is the legal right given to a person to be responsible for the assets and finances of a person deemed fully or partially incapable of providing these necessities for himself.

Q: How is a Guardian Appointed?

A: The exact process varies by state but the process generally begins when a friend or loved one seeking the appointment of guardian files a petition with the probate court where the allegedly incapacitated individual lives. The court will arrange for an evaluation to determine if incapacity exists. If the court determines it does and the individual in question fights the determination, a trial will be scheduled. If not, the guardianship will be granted and the court will issue documents giving the guardian legal standing.

Q: What is a Revocable Living Trust?

A: A revocable living trust can be set up to allow an individual to appoint a trustee to act on their behalf and manage their financial affairs. A person must be competent to establish a living trust.

Q: What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances?

A: A durable power of attorney is a document in which an individual delegates an agent the power to make financial transactions on his behalf if he is unable to do so. The individual must be competent to execute a durable power of attorney.

Q: What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?

A:When an individual designates an agent to make health care decisions on his behalf the document is referred to as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Health care decisions can include the decision to withdraw life support. As with a living trust and durable power of attorney for finances, a person must be competent to execute a durable power of attorney for health care.

Q: What is a Representative Payee?

A: A substitute payee can be appointed for an incapacitated person who receives only governmental benefits. The substituted payee, usually a relative or friend, can then manage that person’s funds.

Additional Resources for Help:

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys 1604 N. Country Club Rd. Tucson, AZ 85716 (520) 881-4005Website: www.naela.org

Family Caregiver Alliance 785 Market Street, Suite 750 San Francisco, CA 94103 (415) 434-3388 (800) 445-8106 Web Site: www.caregiver.org

Are there other terms that you think we have missed in our list?  Let us know!