An Alzheimer's or dementia diagnosis can be a challenging journey for the person and family alike. When the diagnosis occurs, a ticking clock begins on the timeline for getting proper and sound notarizations done for crucial legal documents.
What Does It Mean to Get a Document Notarized?
According to the National Notary Association, having a document notarized is a process that ensures the document is authentic. The Notary serves as an impartial screener who confirms the identity, willingness, and awareness of the person signing the document.
There are vital issues and implications to be aware of when having documents notarized for individuals with dementia.
Notarizing for a Person With Dementia: A Legal Gray Area
Having documents notarized for seniors with dementia leads to some legal gray areas. There are no laws that prohibit having documents notarized for individuals with cognitive impairments. However, the role of a Notary Public extends beyond the procedural formalities.
Notarizing documents for anyone who is cognitively impaired also comes with a dramatically increased risk for both fraud and elder abuse. This is an issue that Notaries are highly aware of and protect against.
Notaries must assess whether their document signers understand and are aware of the nature of the documents, their contents, and their details. They also must verify the signer's identity.
Notaries must screen each signer to ensure he or she is signing the document willingly. The signer cannot be under the pressure or direction of any third party.
The Notary will refuse to notarize a document if the Notary finds that any of these conditions fail to meet the standard.
It's critical for families to act ethically and responsibly in notarizing important documents for their aging loved ones with dementia. If your loved one is facing a dementia diagnosis, establish legal clarity as soon as possible to avoid uncertainties later.
How to Prepare When Having Documents Notarized
The following tips will help you prepare:
- Make sure the Notary visits the signer at a time when the signer is cognitively aware.
- Arrange for the signer to meet privately with the Notary.
- Confirm what type of notarization you need on specific legal documents. If you need anything clarified, check with your attorney or the document recipient.
- Ensure the signer is prepared to present his or her identification. The signer also must be able to sign the document, if necessary, as well as the Notary's record book. Some states also require a fingerprint impression.
- Ensure there are no blank spaces or dates on the documents. To combat fraud, a Notary will refuse to notarize if required entries are blank.
Legal Documents to Have Notarized for Dementia Diagnosis
Certain legal documents, more commonly notarized for seniors, serve the person's wishes and protect them from undue influence. Those documents include the following:
Power of Attorney (General vs. Durable)
A power of attorney grants authority to a trusted individual to make financial and legal decisions on behalf of someone else. A general power of attorney is usually effective immediately but expires upon incapacity of the signer. In contrast, a durable power of attorney remains in effect even if the signer becomes unable to handle his or her affairs.
Medical Power of Attorney
This document designates a representative to make medical decisions when the individual is unable to do so. You may also hear it referred to as a health care proxy. Notarizing it ensures that all parties will respect the signer's health care preferences.
A living will specifies end-of-life medical preferences. Having it notarized provides assurance that medical choices align with the signer's wishes.
In cases where dementia has advanced significantly, you may need to establish a legal guardian or conservator for your loved one. In securing notarized documents, you can ensure that the guardian responsibly manages your loved one's financial and personal affairs.
Will or Trust
Notarizing a will helps prevent the need for the witnesses to appear in probate court when the time comes. Notarizing a trust helps prevent disputes over the validity of the signer's signature, and the trust itself usually avoids probate and is meant to guarantee the proper distribution of assets after your loved one's passing, minimizing potential disputes.
HIPAA Release Form
A HIPAA release form grants specific individuals access to the signer's medical information, aiding health care decisions.
Financial Account Designations
You may also want to ensure that all parties will handle your loved one's financial matters according to their preferences. To do this, you can work with a Notary to notarize designations on your loved one's financial accounts.
Act Before It's Too Late
The absence of specific laws surrounding notarial acts and dementia highlights the importance of being proactive. Waiting until the last moment to have something notarized may lead to legal difficulties or disputes.
As soon as you receive confirmation of your loved one's dementia diagnosis, initiate the process of having key legal documents notarized. It's essential you do this while your loved one can still articulate their wishes. This way, you can help protect them while reducing potential family conflicts.
Phillip W. Browne is the vice president of communications at the National Notary Association. [email protected] The NNA is the leading organization providing training, support, supplies, and advocacy for America's 4.4 million Notaries Public. Since 1957, the NNA has been committed to serving Notaries and their employers throughout the United States by imparting knowledge, building community, and promoting sound professional standards of practice for the benefit and protection of the public.