Bipolar Disorder & Competency Regarding Wills
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Q:  Bipolar Disorder & Competency Regarding Wills

My mother had a severe case of bipolar disorder. She also had perceived  physical disorder. I took her from doctor to doctor for decades because she refused to accept the fact that her pain was mental manifesting itself in physical pain. She insisted she had a deadly disease causing all of her pain and depression. She would get pain pills, Xanax, and sleeping pills from as many doctors as she could.  She had 3 known attempted suicides. The first two landed her in intensive care as they pumped her stomach. The last one was successful.
 Her will was astonishing leaving everything to a preying neighbor, and churches. She had not even attended church until after she started her suicide attempts.
 I have filed a caveat in that I am her only child and what she left had also been my father's who worked for me and derived their assets through my love care and support. My attorney says it will depend on the judge. He says she could have mental problems without being incompetent to sign a will. I feel that her mind was so distorted that she had built up so many chaotic scenarios in her mind. Somehow I became the enemy no matter how much I tried to help. Can Bipolarism cause someone to have such a distorted view of her loved ones and the world as to render them incompetent to enter into a will that would leave everything to entities, not the natural recipients of such assets at her death?


Dear Beverly --
As you will discover, and may already have, the legal definition of "competence" is very narrow.  One can be quite mentally deranged, unable to function in numerous areas, but if one can recognize a medical problem, and understand the consequences of choosing treatment Option A versus Option B (and communicate one's understanding of those consequences successfully), then for that particular medical problem, one is regarded as "competent".

You can also imagine that society would not be well served by laws which allowed someone to allege "mental illness", and thereby override the wishes of the allegedly ill person -- without some very rigid rules about how to determine "mentally ill", and therefore "incompetent to make decisions".  That is why these laws are so tightly defined.

Nevertheless, your attorney will guide you, in your particular case.  Good luck getting that figured out --

Dr. Phelps

Published January, 2009


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