Can Someone with Dementia Sign Legal Documents?

You must be troubling yourself with this question: Can someone with dementia sign legal documents? This article breaks down how someone with dementia can sign legal documents. We’re here to explain every step of the way. Now, let’s get started with the definition of dementia.

What is Dementia?

The National Institute on Ageing (NIH) defined it as “A decrease in cognitive abilities, including thinking, remembering, and reasoning, to the point where it affects a person’s day-to-day activities”. However, the symptoms and severity of dementia vary. Approximately one-third of adults over 85 suffer from dementia.

Dementia can be categorized into various forms, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and differential dementia. Hence, the type of dementia plays a significant role in signing any legal document.

Can Someone with Dementia Sign Legal Documents?

How Does Dementia Impact the Ability to Make Decisions When Signing Legal Documents?

Dementia symptoms can vary depending on the cause. Nonetheless, the following cognitive alterations may have an impact on a dementia patient’s capacity for decision-making:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment
  • Trouble communicating or understanding
  • Issues managing finances
  • Getting lost
  • Taking longer than normal to complete chores
  • Losing interest in life
  • Act impulsively
  • Surprisingly, Neuronal cell function is frequently irreversibly lost in dementia patients.

Can Someone with Dementia Sign Legal Documents?

Now, an important question arises: can someone with dementia sign legal documents? Here, we must understand that a person who suffers from a communication or intellectual impairment is unable to sign any kind of legal instrument. In law, testamentary ability is another term for a sound mind. It is the capability to comprehend and know your will so that you can build a logical strategy. 

In Wisconsin (US State), the presumption of testamentary ability applies to anybody above 18. However, if dementia is severe, a person may not be able to make testaments, rendering the documents useless. Besides, a beneficiary may contest a will because the testator was mentally incompetent when they signed it. Therefore, we have to make sure that the individual signing these documents is competent to sign them.

Courts in Michigan have ruled that “if it appears that the testator’s mind was capable of attention and exertion when aroused and [the testator] was not imposed upon, forgetfulness and weakness of mind do not invalidate a will.”

Furthermore, we need to keep these questions in mind when we get documents signed by dementia people:

  • Does the client have a reasonable understanding of how much property they own?
  • Are they aware of who the natural recipients of their bounty are?
  • Do they realize that the individuals they have named in their paperwork will inherit their estate (their reward) following their death?
  • When they signed these documents, did they have the above knowledge?

Can a Person with Dementia Sign Other Official Documents?

A person suffering from dementia might need to sign a deed, power of attorney, health care proxy, contract for sale, and other documents. Moreover, legal professionals typically believe that signing these papers requires a little higher threshold of competence than signing a will or trust. The explanation for this appears to be the fact that these documents frequently deal with particular assets or problems.

It is noteworthy that to sign any of the above documents, the person needs to be competent. Any document they sign won’t be enforceable if it’s found that they are incompetent. However, a person does not automatically become incompetent just because they show early signs of dementia. 

For instance, someone would struggle to recall their phone number and forget the date, but they would still be able to recall a lot of other crucial information. However, any indication of dementia should serve as a strong caution.

Now, it is important to get at least one, if not two, medical reports as your estate planning lawyer. In addition, we would talk with the client about the transaction calmly and attentively. Furthermore, we could record the signing on camera to provide more proof of our ability.

Can Someone with Dementia Sign Legal Documents?

What is the Procedure for Navigating the Legal System to Determine Competency?

Once a person is believed to be incompetent, the next course of action is to go before a court and have their competency determined. Subsequently, a guardian or conservator may be appointed by a court to make decisions about a person’s care and property, especially if they have dementia.

One practical reason to go to court is to ease the family’s concern and sadness. Moreover, what if some family members feel this is disrespectful and others are aware that action needs to be taken? This has been known to cause family disputes and even result in permanent separation, not to mention increased costs. Consequently, this brings us to our last point.

Can People with Dementia Receive Legal Benefits from Living Trusts?

Interestingly, a loved one with dementia can also leave instructions about how they want their estate managed through a living trust. In order to invest and oversee the assets of a loved one, a grantor or trustor may designate themselves, another individual, or an organization—such as a bank—as trustee. 

What Is a Living Will and How Does It Differ from a Standard Will for Individuals with Dementia?

“Besides all the aforementioned options, there is another surprise for dementia people: the “Living Will”. Essentially, it functions as an advanced directive. Similarly, it expresses the wishes of a loved one suffering from dementia about care in certain medical circumstances, such as artificial life support. 

Nevertheless, a conventional will differs from a living will in that it names the assets that are part of the estate as well as the designated executor. Moreover, even while they possess this power, they lack legal authority when a loved one is still living. However, while your loved one is capable of making decisions, it is beneficial to have a signed will in place.

How Does Advanced Planning Help Families with a Loved One’s Dementia Diagnosis?

It can be difficult for all those involved when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia. Nevertheless, getting guidance on advanced care planning, which includes senior living or signing legal documents, can be incredibly helpful. Indeed, it can be helpful before things get harder and they lose their capacity to make decisions.

Final Thoughts

From all the above we must conclude that nobody indeed likes talking about “Can Someone with Dementia Sign Legal Documents?” Furthermore, when these hard subjects are ignored, clients and their families frequently find themselves in a worse and more tense situation. It is important to note that competency is a prerequisite for signing legal documents. 

Apart from this, families can protect their loved one’s rights and interests in the face of dementia by obtaining legal advice from reliable sources. However, if your loved one signs these crucial contracts before developing dementia, it should be rather clear what they intend to sign.

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