How Is Incapacity Determined?

When an individual is incapacitated, it can trigger a number of legal actions and agreements. If someone has a living Will, medical power of attorney, or financial power of attorney, they often come into play when an individual’s mental capacities are limited. This leads to an important question, though: how is incapacity determined?

Identifying a Deficiency

Legally, incapacity refers to an individual’s inability to perform certain tasks due to a mental impairment. This is easier in some cases than in others. For example, it’s clear that someone in a coma is unable to make decisions or perform important mental tasks. However, if someone is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, it can be more difficult to determine when someone becomes incapacitated.

Affected Areas

The decision to have someone labeled “incapacitated” often follows poor or unsafe decisions made by an individual. Deficiencies can affect many areas of mental reasoning, including:

  • Inability to predict or understand the consequences of actions
  • Inability to communicate or understand other people
  • Delusions, hallucinations, or other indications of a disconnect from reality
  • Failure to recognize people, objects, and places that would otherwise be familiar to an individual
  • Failure to control or manage moods, particularly when combined with irrational actions
  • Lack of reasoning or logical thinking

Who Determines Whether or Not an Individual is Incapacitated?

Before an individual’s loved ones can step in and take legal steps to protect them, they must be declared incapacitated. This may be easy if an individual is obviously unable to care for themselves, but it is often more challenging if family members disagree on the person’s mental status or the individual is not ready to relinquish their independence.

The process of declaring someone “incapacitated” begins with a physician. The individual’s treating physician must use their clinical knowledge to determine a person’s mental status and health. Typically, the court will accept a written statement from the person’s regular physician or written statements from two other physicians.

If there is any dispute regarding an individual’s capacity, the court makes the final decision. Generally, the court will agree with the regular physician if their determination is backed up by medical records and documentation. If family members disagree with the physician, an independent medical examination may be ordered.

What happens next depends largely on what arrangements have been made by the individual and their family members. Someone may take over their affairs if there are powers of attorney in place, or the person may come under the care of a conservatorship. It is important to make these decisions and have the necessary paperwork in place before a person is determined to be incapacitated.

You can address these situations and more with a carefully written and well-thought out estate plan. Take the first step now and reach out to MMZ Law at 909-256-6702.

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