Legal News: What is a Letter of Competency?

If you or your loved one has received the news that you are suffering from dementia or other problem that impacts mental capacity, it can be devastating. However, this can also complicate the legal planning that a senior may need to do.

You’ve probably heard stories about disputes between family members over a will or other estate planning document and whether it was valid or not.

Combine a questionable mental capacity with such a dispute and it is a recipe for disaster.

However, it is easy to add one simple step to the legal planning process that can reduce discord and stress for everyone down the road.

What a Letter of Competency Does

It is a good idea to obtain a letter of competency when a will, advanced directive, power of attorney, or other legal document is drafted. This can help dispel any disagreements about whether the person signing the documents had the mental capacity to make such decisions.

While an attorney cannot help an incompetent individual create or change a document, the legal definition of competency is a bit different than the medical definition of competency.

It is a good idea to ensure that a person is both medically and legally competent to make decisions about their estate, finances, and healthcare so there is no doubt about the validity of the documents they sign. 

Obtaining a Letter of Competency

Most people will request that their primary care doctor create a letter of competency because they would have seen the person over a course of several years and be able to recognize any changes in their baseline state.

Other people may choose to have a doctor that specializes in mental health to create such a letter. 

The letter from the doctor attesting to the mental capacity of their patient should be made on their letterhead and include:

  • The patient’s name, date of birth, the date in which their relationship with the patient began 
  • A statement testifying to the ability or inability of the patient to make decisions 
  • Any relevant medical diagnoses as well as the date of such diagnosis,
  • The physician’s contact information 

While a doctor has likely completed a statement of mental capacity before, it is a good idea to have your estate planning attorney review the letter and ensure it meets all necessary legal requirements. 

Documentation is Key

We never know whether a child, sibling, or other family members will attempt to attest some piece of legal documentation, and unfortunately, it happens more often than you might imagine. Many of these cases end up going through lengthy and costly guardianship proceedings. 

While it may seem excessive to seek proof of mental capacity, it is almost always better to be safe rather than sorry. The energy and time to obtain this documentation are minimal compared to the cost of a lawsuit or guardianship proceeding.

Call Alex today at 508-660-0331 for answers.