As soon as you become an adult, you are responsible for all of your own legal decisions. No one else can make them for you and you are protected from having the right taken away. However, what if you are unable to make cogent legal decisions?
Certain mental health disorders can make it difficult to see the world through a clear lens. They may lead to delusions or beliefs that cause you to make harmful decisions. In these cases, it is important that someone can step in and help make the best decision for you.
But this is a murky area, especially since the laws meant to protect can be abused.
Let’s look at the kind of decisions that a person may need to make as well as when they are considered unable to do so.
Financial and health decisions
Ideally, you have made certain big financial decisions for your future already. If you haven’t prepared for what happens in all eventualities, you should consider doing so as soon as possible. These decisions can protect you if you become unable to make decisions at a later point.
Writing a will and getting life insurance ensures that you have already decided where your finances will go if you die and no one can change that if you become incapacitated. How much does term life insurance cost? It depends on many factors, including your age, health, and how much you want to leave to your loved ones. Get a quote sooner rather than later to prevent future issues.
Another important decision you can make is to write power of attorney documents. You can grant power of attorney for both financial and health decisions to people who you trust fully. They will then be able to carry out what you would want when you are unable to think clearly.
Before discussing what mental health disorders can lead to a scenario in which you are unable to make legal decisions, it is important to understand how the relevant laws can be abused.
Conservatorships and exploitation of mental illness
If you are familiar with the term ‘conservatorship’, chances are that you first heard it in regards to Britney Spears. She went through a public mental health crisis in 2008 and she was deemed to lack the competency to take care of herself. As such, her father was granted guardianship over her.
Unfortunately, he became one of a number of people who used this situation to exploit her. The problem is that once your mental capacity has been challenged and found lacking, it is very difficult to prove that you are healthy. It is for this reason that deciding on power of attorney when you’re healthy is so important.
Britney Spears was under their control for thirteen years, and she is not the only person to have experienced this kind of exploitation. As such, when discussing the following mental illnesses, it is important to remember that a person’s right to make their own decisions should only be taken away as a last resort.
Bipolar disorder is a fairly common mental illness. A person suffering with bipolar disorder experiences periods of deep depression as well as periods of mania. During both these types of episodes, it may be difficult or impossible for the person to think rationally.
People suffering with bipolar disorder do not usually experience hallucinations, but they can see the world through a very distorted lens. They may get delusions of grandeur or start to see patterns in random occurrences.
In certain cases, it may become impossible for them to make sound legal decisions and the responsibility may go to a third party.
Schizophrenia is the most common mental illness that leads to questions of mental competency. People suffering from schizophrenia may see or hear things that are not there, have severe delusions, mistake their loved ones for strangers, and experience a number of symptoms that make the world a foreign place.
For people with schizophrenia, it is common that a close family member will begin to make legal decisions. These may be decisions regarding health, finances, and other matters. The diagnosis alone is not enough cause to take away someone’s right to independence. However, those experiencing severe symptoms will struggle to find the mental clarity to make their own choices.
Most mental illnesses are not cause for a person to lose their right to make legal decisions. Only in extreme circumstances should a person ever be put in a conservatorship or similar framework. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one who suffers from one of these illnesses, be sure to look at what steps you can take to protect your rights even when you are not yourself.