What to Know about Legal Capacity in Order to Bequeath a Home


Jordan Flake:  I'm Jordan Flake. I'm an attorney with Clear Counsel Law Group. I have a question here. My sister has agreed to care for my mother and her home. Is there a legal way of ensuring that the home will be given to her after mother passes so that she'll not have to sell it before then? I think the idea here is they want to be able to keep the mother in the home during the course of the mother’s life.

Whenever a client comes to us and says, "I'm caring for my mother, or I'm caring for my father and we want to do this." The very first thing that pops into our head is the highly relevant question of does your mother still have her capacity. What I mean by capacity is the ability to make decisions by herself and for her own benefit. When we talk about capacity, we're not necessarily at her prime, can she solve all the math problems that she would have been able to solve in her 20's or 30's.

We're more asking the question of does she know, if she says I want this property to go this way, or to this person. I want this person to take care of me. Does she understand the implications of those questions. Is there consistency. That's the first question that I would ask in response to this. Basically, if the mother still has her capacity and is pretty sharp then there are a lot of options for making sure that the mother can stay in the home and make a designation as to who the property will pass after she passes away. She could do a reverse mortgage, she could do a simple will, she could do a revocable living trust. There's just a lot of different options in that scenario.

If the mother does not have her capacity anymore, and again, just settling quickly on capacity, this can often be a medical question and it would fall outside the expertise either the sister in this scenario or a special interest lawyers. Often times we may wish to consult a physician in order to determine whether or not an individual, elderly individual has the capacity. But if we're on a case where the mother has lost her capacity, then yes, we're a lot more restricted in what we can do. If we want to take some serious action like selling a property, it may be necessary to obtain a guardianship order from the court to that effect.

I know I'm jumping all over the place, but the other thing you have to consider is whether or not the mother has valid power of attorney documents, because if she does then a guardianship wouldn't be necessary. There's kind kind of an analysis that we go through whenever we get these types of questions to determine whether or not there's capacity. Whether or not there are or not estate planning documents that will help out, and if not we might be looking at a guardianship scenario.

Brian, I kind of jumped all over the place during that answer. Did you have any follow up questions on that?


Brian:  Just one follow up. If a person has been determined to have lost capacity, can a person regain capacity?


Jordan Flake: Absolutely, yes. I use the term elderly when we're talking about capacity, because it is often the case. I've had a few cases where there was a severe liver disorder, for example, on one client that I'm thinking about. He was a 52 year old man, otherwise fully had his capacity, but his liver disorder affected his ability to make decisions. We had to go out and get a guardianship for him. Fortunately a few months down the road, the liver issue was solved and we watched as his capacity came back fully and we were able to close out the guardianship. Guardianship is by no means a permanent situation. It's often times, though, when we're talking about adult guardianship, we are talking about elderly people who might be toward the end of their life, and that's why they have lost their capacity.

In any event, if you are trying to provide for the care of a parent, and you have questions about how the assets are supposed to be distributed, please reach out to Clear Counsel Law Group. Talk with me. We can go over the scenario on the phone or I'm happy to meet with the elderly parent and basically we'll go through this analysis and make sure we take all the right steps. Thank you.

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