People are considered mentally incompetent under law if they’re manifestly psychotic or otherwise of unsound mind, either sporadically or consistently, by reason of mental defect. These defects can include retardation, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other acute mental or physical problems such as epilepsy, which cause people to become clearly incapable of maintaining awareness of and responsibility for their actions. Some states define it as a deficit in at least one area of mental functioning. Alzheimer’s disease presents some special problems, including the fact that there are few legal precedents, the disease moves so slowly that it’s difficult to evaluate in early stages, a victim may not be able to make choices in one or more areas, tests for Alzheimer’s may yield unclear results, and the law holds that people should remain autonomous as long as possible. Determinations of legal mental incompetence are important because they concern the ability to prepare wills, trusts, contracts, prenuptial agreements, health care decisions, or conservatorships or to select qualified people to assist in such preparation. If a problem is suspected, attorneys helping to prepare such documents should consult treating physicians and mental health experts to determine whether mental deficits exists and whether they affect decision making capacity substantially. While you have full control over your mental functions, it’s also the time to designate someone to have financial and medical power of attorney. If you become unable to make your own financial or health decisions, then this individual would have the authority to act on your behalf.
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