Being incapacitated in terms of legality means that a person is unable to manage their legal and financial affairs on their own. This might be for mental health reasons or due to age, illness, or disability.
In cases of incapacity, an Agent or Guardianship can be appointed to properly take care of the person affected. This will bestow the legal rights to act on behalf of the incapacitated individuals.
Read on to learn more about what it means to be an incapacitated person in law and how the legal processes of appointing Agents and guardians work in practice.
What is Legal Incapacity?
Being legally incapacitated signifies that you cannot provide food, shelter, and clothing for yourself. It also means that you cannot personally handle your financial or legal obligations.
This usually also indicates that you cannot communicate your wishes effectively or safely make decisions on your own.
A person may be considered legally incapacitated for legal purposes if they meet the following criteria:
- They’re under 18 years of age
- They have a mental incapacity due to disability or injury
- They are in a coma or unconscious
- They are suffering from the effects of advanced age such as dementia or Alzheimer’s
How is Someone Declared Incapacitated?
Often a court process is required to legally declare a person incapacitated. In this case, it will be necessary to take the following steps:
- File an application in your local courthouse
- Provide a doctor’s letter proving the person is incapacitated
- Attend the hearing
The court will decide whether the affected individual needs to have a guardian appointed. The person named by the court will then take legal responsibility for the individual.
In many cases, if the individual has named an Agent via a Durable Power of Attorney document they will become legally responsible for the duties listed on the form. This may only happen after a doctor has certified the person as incapacitated.
Is Incapacity Reversible?
Yes, in situations where a person is temporarily incapacitated due to injury or illness, such as being in a coma, they may be considered legally capable again once they recover.
Yet, in cases where the disability, illness, or injury has permanently affected the individual’s ability to make decisions and take care of themselves, a named Agent or court-appointed guardian will need to take on these responsibilities for them.