The Most Important — and Overlooked — Document in a Senior’s Legal File

You have all your ducks in a row for Mom’s legal needs. Or do you?

You may have a will, documentation
of Power of Attorney, Advance Directives, and Healthcare Proxies,
but without a Letter of Competency, these documents may still be subject to dispute.

Too often, bitter arguments arise between family members about what their loved one really wanted, especially if they had dementia or other issues that affected their mental abilities. One family member might feel that Mom was coerced or otherwise unfairly influenced when drafting these important documents.

What Is a Letter of Competency?

A Letter of Competency is an assurance that Mom is indeed, “of sound mind and body,”
at the time she makes decisions. The best time to seek a Letter of Competency is when documents are being drawn up, or when they are being changed.

Generally speaking, this letter, which attests to the person’s mental capacity to make medical, financial, and legal decisions on their own behalf, is best written by a primary care physician who knows the older person over the course of many years, and is familiar with changes in their cognition and their mental and physical health.

However, if Mom is already cognitively impaired, it might be best for a specialist,
such as a neurologist or psychiatrist, to conduct a complete mental evaluation.

What is in a Letter of Competency?

The Letter of Competency should be written on the physician’s letterhead, and include
the following:

  • The patient’s name
  • The patient’s date of birth
  • The date the doctor first began seeing the patient
  • A statement from the doctor attesting that the patient is able (or unable) to make legal decisions, including decisions regarding their medical care and their finances
  • A list of all of the patient’s medical diagnoses, with the date of diagnosis for each condition
  • The doctors contact information

Although the Letter of Competency is written by a doctor, it is wise to have a lawyer
look it over.

The original letter should be filed with all other legal documents, and a copy should be kept in the patient’s medical file.

Families do not always clash when reviewing an older relative’s documents, but it happens frequently. And when it does, the results are often unpleasant and long-lasting. As with
all medical and legal decisions, prevention is the best medicine. The Letter of Competency is an easy way to ensure that Mom’s wishes are met.

We at Atlantic Coast Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Lakewood, NJ, know everything about keeping a senior happy and healthy, and ensuring all their needs are met.

Read our reviews on,, and to hear what our residents and their families have to say.

Or better yet, come see for yourself: Contact us to schedule a tour by calling 732-364-7100, or by clicking here.

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