Dementia and other health issues that affect one's mental capacity are devastating in many ways, but they can also complicate the basic legal planning that is recommended for all seniors.
How a Letter of competency Works
Encouraging a loved one to obtain a letter of competency at the time their will, power of attorney forms, advance directive and any other legal documents are drafted and signed will help dispel any notions that these documents were created while they lacked the mental capacity to make medical, financial and legal decisions.
How to Obtain a Letter of Competency
In some cases, obtaining this letter from a doctor who specializes in mental health and cognition, such as a psychiatrist or a neurologist, is a good idea. For example, if your mother is already experiencing mild memory loss and has not had a primary care doctor for a decade, then a complete mental evaluation conducted by a specialist would be more credible compared to a mini-mental exam conducted by a new family doctor who is seeing her for the first time.
What a letter of competency should include
A generic letter from a doctor attesting to a patient's mental capacity should be printed on the physician's letterhead and include the following fundamental pieces of information such as:
Remember, it is impossible to predict whether a family member may contest the validity of an aging loved one's legal documents, but it happens all the time.
It may seem excessive to seek additional proof of mental capacity when changing or creating any legal documents, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
It isn't easy but encouraging your loved one to make sound legal preparations, acting in their best interest and taking every precaution to carefully document changes in their health and financial status will ensure that your journey goes as smoothly as possible.
Author: Ashley Huntsberry-Lett
I Have worn many hats in my day: Nursing Home Assistant Admin and Activities Director, Assisted Living Admin, Case Management for the State-wide Medicaid Program, and Trainer for Dept of Elder Affairs.