Be Proactive And Include A Letter Of Competency With Legal Documents
In my law practice, I see heartbreaking situations where people contest the validity of wills claiming that the recently deceased loved one was mentally incapacitated when they absolutely were not. I have seen this so many times that I now talk to my clients about being proactive and including a letter of competency in with their legal documents, whether they have any diagnosed mental health issues or not.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease and other health issues that affect mental capacity are widespread today, which makes mental incapacity the “go-to” excuse for those wanting to contest a will. You could be in your right mind right up until the moment you take leave of this earth, but that won’t stop disgruntled family members who are not happy with the directives of a will. A letter of competency will nip those doubts in the bud, thus eliminating any doubts about the validity of legal documents.
Getting A Letter Of Competency
Your primary care physician is typically the one who would write this letter for you. Of course, it must be a doctor who has seen you over the course of several years and is familiar with any changes in mental and physical health. Also, if you have been under the care of a doctor who specializes in mental health and cognition, such as a psychiatrist or a neurologist, getting a letter of competency from them would be a good idea.
By way of example, let’s say your mother is experiencing mild memory loss and has not had a primary care doctor for a decade. In this case, 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. Very often the attorney you’re working with may be able to recommend which of your loved one’s physicians would be able to provide the most accurate statement.
What a Letter of Competency Should Include
A generic letter from a doctor attesting to your mental capacity or that of your loved one, should be printed on the physician’s letterhead and include the following fundamental pieces of information:
Patient’s date of birth
Date the patient-physician relationship was established
Physician’s statement testifying to the patient’s ability or inability to make independent decisions regarding healthcare, finances and legal matters
The patient’s relevant medical diagnoses (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, mental illness, developmental delay, etc.)
Date of diagnosis for each relevant medical issue
Physician’s contact information
It is also wise to work with your elder care attorney to determine if any other facts or supporting evidence should be included. Keep the original letter(s) of competency filed with the corresponding legal documentation in a safe place, such as a locked file cabinet, a safe deposit box or with an attorney. It’s also a good idea to have the physician keep a copy in the patient’s medical file as well.
Keep In Mind
Also, you need to know that attorneys are prohibited from helping incompetent individuals to change or create legal documents. 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.