Wills, trusts and powers of attorney are essential tools to plan for your senior years. They allow you to protect your finances, ensure that your last wishes are met, and that any medical needs you might have can be taken care of even if you become unable to make the decisions on your own. They not only protect you and your interests, but they protect your loved ones by providing guidance in making important decisions.

However, sometimes parents may become incapacitated or otherwise unable to sign such an all-important document, and this can require the intervention of an attorney. Learn what happens when a senior can or cannot sign a will, how to determine competency, and when an elder law attorney can help with the decision.

Determining Competency

It’s important to note that determining competency isn’t always easy. Just because a parent suffers from Alzheimer’s or is under a guardianship, that doesn’t mean they aren’t competent. They may still be quite capable of signing a will or making the necessary end-of-life decisions.

To determine whether a senior is still competent in case of a parent refusing to sign a will or trust, you’ll need to meet with your attorney and sit down to determine competency. Only then can you determine if other avenues can be taken.

Standards of Competency

There are certain basic legal standards that can be applied to determine whether someone is mentally sound enough to make their own decision. The specifics can vary widely not just from place to place but from case to case. However, a solid baseline involves the following four factors:

  1.      The person knows their loved ones—specifically, their spouse and children.
  2.      The person is aware of their property. They know what they are worth and they know their assets and the approximate value of those.
  3.      They understand the decisions they are making or refusing; that is, they know what a will, trust, power of attorney or other legal document is, and they understand the consequences of not having one.
  4.      They are able to formulate a plan of action regarding the disposition of their property.

In general, if the above four factors are met, the senior can be ruled competent to sign or refuse to sign a will.

Working with an Estate Planning Attorney

If your senior parent or spouse is unwilling to establish these important documents, it may be important to sit down and talk with them, using the help of an established elder law attorney. An attorney may be able to advise them where you can’t, and sometimes people are more willing to listen to professionals than they are to their loved ones.

An estate planning lawyer can always at least help to get the process started. They can get your loved one thinking about what will eventually need to be done, and this can be an important first step forward. For years, the Stano Law Firm has served in this capacity for our clients throughout Cuyahoga County, OH, and we can help you as well. Give us a call for help and advice today.