The legal competence of a senior citizen suffering from dementia is a cause for concern, especially for loved ones who are worried about issues stemming from financial dealings and disputed inheritances. Experienced Ohio elder law attorneys are trained to determine a senior’s legal competency, even in cases when the senior suffers from dementia, because of the impact it has on long-term care planning.
Just because a senior has dementia, it does not immediately disqualify him or her from signing legal documents. An experienced elder law attorney will look for signs of comprehension, perhaps by asking certain qualifying questions, to determine whether the senior is capable of making legal decisions at that moment.
The important distinction here is when the documents are signed: while the senior may go back and forth between competency and incompetency, any legal documents signed while the senior is deemed competent are considered valid. In addition, an experienced Ohio elder law attorney will measure the senior’s level of alertness and look to see if the senior displays any confusion during the meeting. If the senior is a previous client of the attorney, then the attorney may use prior knowledge of their wishes to determine if the client’s current state matches with what they know about the person or if it’s out of place due to the dementia.
Again, it is important to note that elder law attorneys work with clients who move in and out of competency, sometimes depending on the week or even the day. The presence of dementia alone does not invalidate legal documents signed while the senior is competent. To add an extra layer of security, the attorney will typically write a memo after the document signing to state why the senior was able to sign the documents.
Dementia is often stated as a reason for a will contest when a family member is not given an inheritance they expected and contend that the reason was that the senior was incompetent at the time the last will and testament was signed. The person bringing the will contest to court must prove that the individual was indeed incompetent at the time of signing which requires evidence of diminished mental capacity during the time the will was created. This is a heavy burden of proof and requires a physician’s testimony as well as the testimony of the lawyer who determined the senior was competent to sign the documents.
If you have questions about legal competency and how it relates to dementia, or if a loved one is suffering from dementia and you’d like to know if they’re still able to sign documents to protect their assets, please contact our Ohio elder law office at 877-653-3450 to schedule an initial consultation.