It's difficult to watch someone you love go downhill mentally. What starts out as forgetfulness or confusion often progresses to a state where the person can no longer make sound personal decisions and suffers from cognitive impairment. At this point, for your loved one's wellbeing, you are faced with a decision on having her declared mentally incompetent. Laws regarding who might petition the court for this declaration and related guardianship regulations vary according to state.
You must understand what constitutes mental incompetence before petitioning a probate or family court. Just because a person acts oddly or makes foolish decisions doesn't mean she's mentally incompetent. Even a diagnosis of mental illness doesn't necessarily make a person incompetent. If she can no longer make responsible decisions, that's when mental incompetency comes into play.
Filing a Petition
Depending on the state, any person with an interest in the allegedly incompetent individual's welfare might petition the family or probate court for an incompetency hearing. You must file the petition in the appropriate court in the county in which your relative lives. If your allegedly incompetent relative does not have an attorney, the court usually will appoint one in the form of a guardian ad litem. The attorney visits your relative prior to the competency hearing to obtain information to protect her interests.
The court will schedule a hearing regarding your relative's competence, notify your relative of the hearing, and notify other family members if that is required by state law. At the hearing, you must present evidence that your relative is no longer competent. This includes a medical or psychological evaluation by a licensed physician or clinical psychologist. If your relative won't agree to an evaluation, you must contact the court to order such an examination. You can also submit other documents supporting your contention, such as police reports if someone notified authorities about your relative's strange behavior. Your relative also has the right to introduce evidence proving her competency via expert evaluations. If she is found incompetent, the court will appoint a guardian.
A person declared mentally incompetent requires a legal guardian to make decisions on her behalf. Depending on her condition, the court might grant limited or full guardianship. Full guardians make all decisions for the mentally incompetent person, always with her best interests in mind. Depending on the state, guardianships might be divided into two categories. Someone appointed as guardian of the person makes personal decisions, such as those involving medical care and housing, while an estate guardian handles the financial affairs. In an emergency, the court might appoint a temporary guardian.
Who Can Serve
If you are 18 or older and have never been convicted of a felony, you're usually eligible to serve as a guardian. Often, a spouse or family member receives legal guardianship. If you can't serve as a guardian, perhaps another family member is willing to step in. Friends can serve as guardians, or the court can appoint a special guardian. This is an individual who has received training in guardianship. If no family member or friend is willing or able to serve as a guardian, the court might appoint a private or public organization to act in that capacity.
- Cornell University Law School: Incompetence
- AARP: About Guardianship -- Adult and Elder
- Wake Forest University School of Law: Guardianship or Power of Attorney
- Johnson and Nagaich PS: Guardianship
- Cornell University Law School: Guardian Ad Litem
- Supreme Court of Ohio: Statement of Expert Evaluation
- Greene County Public Administrator: Explanation of Terms
- Photo Credit monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images
How to Have a Mentally Ill Adult Declared Incompetent
Age, disease and injury can occasionally render an adult incapable of effectively managing affairs or making wise decisions. In cases like this,...
How to Declare Someone Incompetent Under Illinois Law
The Illinois Power of Attorney Act defines an incompetent person as, "Any person who, because of insanity, mental illness, mental retardation, old...
How to Declare an Individual Incompetent in Georgia
How Do I Declare Someone Mentally Incompetent in New Jersey if I Have Power of Attorney? Age or illness renders some individuals...
The Legal Effects of Being Declared Incompetent
Being declared incompetent by a court of law can have far-reaching effects on your ability to care for yourself and make decisions...
How to Have Someone Declared Incompetent in North Carolina
Some people are not competent to handle their affairs and need guardians to act on their behalf. Adults who are incapable of...
How to Declare Someone Mentally Incompetent in Ontario
In Ontario, Canada individuals cannot be declared mentally incompetent by anyone except a judge in a court of law. A capacity hearing...
How to Have Someone Declared Incompetent in Kentucky
How To Declare Someone Mentally Incompetent. How to Declare the Elderly Incompetent in California. How to Declare Someone Incompetent Under Illinois Law.
How to Declare the Elderly Incompetent in California
In order for an elderly individual to be placed under guardianship in California, he must first be declared incompetent to manage his...
Mental Incompetency Laws for the Elderly in Florida
The burden of proof is high, when someone is trying to prove that another person is mentally incompetent. An order of guardianship...
How to Prove Mental Health Problems in Court
The insanity defense and mental incompetence are terms often mentioned in news reports about criminal trials. Many people wonder about the difference...