Caregivers: Make Sure this Document is in Your Loved One’s Legal File

You have all of Mom’s legal documents in order. Or do you?

You may have a will, documentation of Power of Attorney, Advance Directives, and Healthcare Proxies, but without a Letter of Competency, these documents may still be subject to dispute.

Too often, bitter arguments arise between family members about what their loved one really wanted, especially if he or she had dementia or other issues that affected mental abilities. One family member might feel that Mom was coerced or otherwise unfairly influenced when signing important documents.

It’s best to avoid these problems by executing a Letter of Competency at the same time other legal documents are being signed.

What Is a Letter of Competency?

A Letter of Competency is an assurance that Mom is indeed, “of sound mind and body,” at the time she made her decisions. The best time to seek a Letter of Competency is when documents are being drawn up, and any time they are being changed.

Generally speaking, this letter, which attests to the person’s mental capacity to make medical, financial, and legal decisions on their own behalf, should be written by a primary care physician who knows the older person over the course of many years. They are therefore familiar with changes in their cognition, as well as their mental and physical health.

However, if Mom is already cognitively impaired, it might be best for a specialist, such as a neurologist or psychiatrist, to conduct a complete mental evaluation.

What is in a Letter of Competency?

The Letter of Competency should be written on the physician’s letterhead, and include the following:

  • The patient’s name
  • The patient’s date of birth
  • The date the doctor first began seeing the patient
  • A statement from the doctor attesting that the patient is able (or unable) to make legal decisions, including decisions regarding their medical care and their finances
  • A list of all the patient’s medical diagnoses, with the date of diagnosis for each condition
  • The doctor’s contact information

Although a Letter of Competency is written by a doctor, it is wise to have a lawyer look it over.

The original letter should be filed with all other legal documents, with a copy kept in the patient’s medical file.

Family members do not always clash when reviewing an older relative’s documents, but it does happen. And when it does, the results are often unpleasant and long-lasting. As with all medical and legal decisions, prevention is the best medicine. The Letter of Competency is an easy way to ensure that Mom’s wishes are met, and family harmony is maintained.

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