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Tips for seniors on avoiding competency battles

By Elizabeth J. McKinney, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

mental competencyAs we age, one of our collective greatest fears is that we’ll lose the power to make our own decisions. This happens sometimes because our faculties begin to betray us. The things that once seemed simple – such as keeping up with a checkbook and paying bills – are more challenging. Physical limitations, such as loss of sight, diminished hearing and failing handwriting, can contribute to those challenges and call into question our mental competency.

Many people have children or a spouse ready or willing to step in. But that may also feed our fear – that as those other people come into the scene to help handle routine tasks, they’ll do things without our knowledge or consent, and that we’ll lose control of our money, our homes and even healthcare decisions.

At times, these relationships can turn contentious, especially if you have substantial funds. Children may fight over competency of a parent, but really be arguing about money.

Mental competency at issue in famous case

The case of media mogul Sumner Redstone, 92, brings competency issues into the news. Redstone’s long-time caregiver filed documents in court indicating he is unable to make his own medical decisions and needs round-the-clock care. Redstone’s attorney and physicians argue that’s not the case, and that while his speech is impaired, he is still capable of making decisions.

If you want to keep control of your home, money and life, there are some things you can do to ensure that you have control longer. Of course, we don’t recommend these steps if you really do need assistance from a trusted family member or friend. If you need help and a child or friend is willing to do so, by all means, accept that help – so long as you know them well.

Tips for seniors

Here is what we’d recommend to seniors who want to keep control of their lives longer:

  • Don’t marry someone who you don’t know well. Marrying someone after a very brief courtship is often a mistake. You may be excited to find someone willing to share your life with you, but you don’t know their intentions or motives well if you haven’t dated long. Also, a quick courtship and marriage may raise alarm bells for those around you.
  • Don’t make big changes in your estate plan without talking it through with a trusted family member. Cutting a child out of your will without telling them or the executor shows signs of instability, and again, may cause those around you to wonder if you’re still capable of making good decisions.
  • Don’t give anyone, at any time, large sums of cash or other sizable assets without a plan in place. This is another red flag for those who know you well. You may even find that you’re feeling more generous as you age. Talk through large gifts with a trusted financial advisor or attorney who can help you weigh the pros and cons.
  • Get evaluated by a doctor. Chances are, you have a physician in your life who knows you well and can evaluate you or send you to another expert for evaluation.
  • Stay active. Simple exercises such as walking help keep your body as well as your mind sharp.

For help setting up your estate plan, call me, attorney Beth McKinney. I have two decades of experience assisting families plan for the future, particularly with trusts and estates. You can reach me at English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, at (270) 781-6500 or emckinney@elpolaw.com.

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