People have the right to make bad decisions. Dad can buy a new vacuum cleaner every week and stack them floor to ceiling. Although he is probably making his family crazy, he is not necessarily legally incompetent. But if Dad cannot buy food because he spends all his income on vacuum cleaners, he may need a guardian to manage his money.
Bad decisions become a legal issue when family members or others concerned conclude that a person is unable to make or communicate responsible decisions about his person or property because of physical or mental disability, disease, habitual drunkenness, drug addiction or other circumstances such as disappearance.
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The best idea for a person who understands that his mental illness affects his functioning or knows that advanced years impair his memory or reasoning is to plan ahead. He may grant financial power of attorney to a trustworthy person and appoint an agent to make health-care decisions if he is unable to do so.
A representative payee can be appointed for a person who can no longer manage his income. The payee receives the person’s government benefits, such as Social Security or a veteran’s pension, and pays his bills.
A petition for guardianship may be the only good option for a person who has not given power of attorney and refuses to accept help but can no longer take care of himself. The person may need one or both types of guardian — a guardian of the person to make sure he has health care, food, clothing and shelter, or a guardian of property if he is unable to manage his property or business affairs effectively.
Mental incompetency is a ghost in fog, difficult to define or identify. Maryland law says a guardian of the person must be appointed if a judge determines that the individual “lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning his person, including provisions for health care, food, clothing, or shelter, because of any mental disability, disease, habitual drunkenness, or addiction to drugs, and that no less restrictive form of intervention is available which is consistent with the person’s welfare and safety.”
A disabled person may be competent to make some decisions but not others. For example, a developmentally disabled 20-year-old may be able to express a reasoned opinion about whom she trusts to handle her money, but unable to pay her bills on time.
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Legal Matters: Petition for guardianship an option for those who need help