Why a Letter of Competency is important to every senior

Disputes over a will often create frustration, animosity, and expensive legal battles. This scenario is especially true among the senior community. An elder’s mental capacity can be disputed, often pitting loved ones against each other. 

There is a simple document in estate planning that minimizes or eliminates the potential for stress and discord over a will. This document is a Letter of Competency.

The Letter of Competency

A Letter of Competency is a legal document provided by a physician. It validates a person’s capability to make informed decisions. In the case of a senior, the letter attests they are medically sound for estate planning.

Attorneys cannot help incompetent individuals create or alter legal documents. But a medical professional can provide written evidence that an elder has the mental capacity to work with their attorney.

How to obtain a Letter of Competency

In most scenarios, a primary physician who is familiar with an elderly patient should produce the letter. This physician should be knowledgeable about the elder’s baseline physical and mental health. 

In other cases, a patient may be required to obtain the document from a professional in cognitive health, such as a neurologist or psychiatrist.

For example, an elderly patient demonstrating signs of mental decline should not alter their estate plan without a letter of competency. Furthermore, this document should be updated as needed as estate plans change.

Another example that would require a Letter of Competency from a specialized health professional is if a patient has not received consistent care from a primary physician. A thorough evaluation may be required to issue this document. 

What to include in a Letter of Competency

A Letter of Competency should be printed on physician letterhead and include the following essential pieces of information:

  • Patient’s name
  • Patient’s date of birth
  • Start date of the patient-physician relationship 
  • Any relevant medical diagnoses, including Alzheimer’s, mental illness, stroke, or developmental delay
  • Date of each relevant medical diagnosis
  • Testimony to the patient’s ability to make sound decisions regarding health care, finances, and legal matters
  • Physician’s contact information

After acquiring a Letter of Competency, any senior can feel more confident that their wishes will be executed as outlined in their estate plan. Family members will also have minimized conflicts that could otherwise arise if there are disagreements regarding the mental status of their loved ones at the time of their passing. 

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