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Can a Person With Alzheimer’s Change Their Will?

Written by Michaela Kitchen
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated March 28, 2023
Reviewed by Letha Sgritta McDowellLetha Sgritta McDowell is an attorney practicing in both Virginia and North Carolina. She is a fellow of the American College of Trusts and Estates Council, a certified elder law attorney, and a past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

When dealing with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, time is of the essence for your loved one to be able to create a will themselves. For family caregivers, making sure their loved one makes time to take care of these tasks can make all the difference in future planning for care recipients. Creating these documents and planning for the future can be simple, but your loved one and their medical team need to be directly involved.

Key Takeaways

  1. Having an Alzheimer’s or other dementia diagnosis does not automatically prevent a person from being able to change their will. As long as an attorney confirms that one is still cognitively sound, changes may be made to their will.
  2. Seniors should draft legal documents to ensure their wishes are followed. Preparing legal documents as early as possible helps take the confusion out of decision making at difficult times.
  3. Creating a will with or without dementia is a similar process. The steps of creating a will do not change, but one must be proven capable if they're showing signs of cognitive impairment.
  4. Only the testator can change their will. A power of attorney or family member cannot make changes on their behalf.

How to create or change a will before and after a dementia diagnosis

A dementia diagnosis is overwhelming, but drafting a will and other legal documents early on in the disease can help you and your family avoid unnecessary stress down the road. Creating or changing a will is generally the same process with or without a dementia diagnosis. However, a senior with dementia may not be able to demonstrate the mental capacity needed to do so.

How to create a will

  • Organize. Name an executor or representative, assess ownership of properties and assets, and decide which beneficiaries to include in the will.
  • Meet with an attorney. An attorney will determine whether your parent has testamentary capacity, which is the ability for one to make, change, or revoke a will.[01]
  • With testamentary capacity. If it is decided that your parent still has the mental capacity to do so, they may proceed with creating a will.
  • Without testamentary capacity. If it is decided that your parent does not have the capacity to make estate planning decisions and understand their consequences, they will not be able to create a will.[02]

How to change a will

  • Review the will periodically. The rule of thumb is to revisit a will every few years and after major life events to ensure it still aligns with personal preferences.
  • Meet with an attorney. Should your parent want to make changes to an existing will after a dementia diagnosis, they should meet with the attorney who helped draft the original document. Their attorney will then determine if they have the capacity to make changes to their will.
    • With testamentary capacity. Your parent will be able to change their will as they please.
    • Without testamentary capacity. Should an attorney determine that your parent does not have capacity, changes cannot be made at that time.

How is testamentary capacity determined?

An attorney will evaluate an individual’s ability to make or change a will based on the following criteria.
A person has testamentary capacity if they understand:
  • The nature and extent of their property. A person looking to create a will must know what they own.
  • The natural objects of their property. A person must know their relatives — those who will typically inherit their property after they die.
  • The disposition that the will is making. A person must know what a will does and how it transfers possession of their property.
  • How these elements combine to form a coherent plan. A person must fully understand how all these factors relate to each other and guide the disposition of their estate.[01]

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Considerations for future planning 

Even if your parent has not yet been diagnosed with a cognitive disability, encourage them to begin making preparations now. While planning for the future can be a tricky process full of what-ifs, doing so will place your loved one in a much better position when difficult decisions need to be made quickly. This planning not only helps them receive the care and support they need the way they want it, but it also helps you take care of their personal, legal, and medical affairs.
When planning for a potential dementia diagnosis, or organizing shortly after a loved one has been diagnosed, consider the factors and questions below.
  • Discuss needs and wants with family. Where does your parent or loved one want to live — at home, with relatives, in a memory care facility, or somewhere else? Have you discussed advanced directives and health care preferences?
  • Make financial preparations. Does your parent have assets and liabilities? Do they own a long-term care insurance policy? Are they eligible for any benefits? Knowing these things in advance is critical to being able to assist them as their situation changes.
  • Obtain legal representation. Does your loved one already have an attorney they trust? Have any legal documents been prepared and signed? Where are they located? Do you have copies?
It’s important to work with a reputable estate planning attorney or elder law attorney when planning for the future. With help from these professionals, families can draft the proper legal documents to better ensure their medical and financial preferences will be followed. While there are some similarities between them, estate planning attorneys and elder law attorneys differ.

Elder law attorneys

These lawyers are exceptionally knowledgeable in state laws that are relevant to the aging process, including planning for public benefits. They help families consider options for senior care and housing as well as options that exist to pay for them.[03]
These attorneys can help with:
  • Planning and applying for Medicaid coverage of long-term care
  • Creating and managing trusts
  • Seeking guardianship and conservatorship

Talk with a Senior Care Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.

Estate planning attorneys

An estate planning attorney can help adults with tax planning and preparing for future life events, including death. These professionals work with a client to create a plan for their estate based on their individual needs.
With help from an estate planning attorney, one can:
  • Find ways to reduce estate taxes
  • Find ways to avoid probate
  • Create a will and other legal documents
Regardless of what kind of attorney you and your loved one choose to work with, planning for their future should be done sooner rather than later. Making the right preparations long before before or early on in a dementia diagnosis can make all the difference down the line.

Can a power of attorney change a will?

No. While a power of attorney can advocate for and make decisions on a loved one’s behalf, they cannot change a loved one’s legal documents (like a will) or make decisions after the person’s death.[04,05]
A durable power of attorney document allows an individual to appoint a trusted person (known as the agent) to make health care and/or financial decisions on their behalf. Although an agent under power of attorney can’t change a will, they serve a very important purpose by advocating for a loved one who may no longer be able to make informed decisions for themselves.
If you have been named as power of attorney for your loved one, you should be knowledgeable and capable of making decisions that align with their wants and needs.

How Senior Care Advisors can help

As you and your loved one begin preparing for the future, you may eventually realize it’s time for other life changes, like moving to a senior living community. Our Senior Care Advisors can gauge your parent’s needs, arrange tours of local memory care communities, and help you explore ways to pay for dementia care.


  1. Legal Information Institute.Testamentary capacity. Cornell Law School.

  2. Georgia.gov. Write a will.

  3. Elder Law Answers. (2022, August 29). What is an elder law attorney?

  4. National Institute on Aging. (2020, October 29). Legal and financial planning for people with dementia.

  5. American Bar Association. Power of attorney.

Meet the Author
Michaela Kitchen

Michaela Kitchen is a copywriter at OurParents. She focuses on senior living trends, resources relevant to the families of seniors, senior lifestyle tips, and health care. Previously, she worked in television and print journalism, social media management, and marketing. She holds a bachelor's degree from Kansas State University in journalism and mass communication.

Reviewed byLetha Sgritta McDowell

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