What does mental capacity mean?

Mental capacity is having the ability to make a decision, such as: what to wear; whether to have surgery or how to manage finances or property. The more serious decisions can have legal consequences. With matters involving complex or major decisions, it may be necessary to have a professional opinion on capacity, which could be a general practitioner or a specialist consultant psychiatrist or psychologist. If a client appears more susceptible to possible undue influence and pressure from self-interested third parties, the client should be asked to agree to a mental capacity assessment.

It is not an easy task to suggest a capacity assessment. Often a client will be guarded and unimpressed when the topic of mental capacity is introduced by their lawyer. Older clients, particularly, can be resistant to the suggestion of a mental capacity assessment because they are scared or simply indignant at the suggestion there could be any doubt about their capacity. These reactions are understandable as there is still a stigma attached to mental health. A mental capacity assessment is not as accepted as a physical examination such as an eyesight or hearing test; a blood test, x-ray or even a bone scan.

Reasonable steps should be taken to encourage the client to agree to the assessment. If you are responsible for looking after the interests of a vulnerable person, such as someone affected by a stroke or dementia, you will know that it requires trust and sensitivity.

It is so important when addressing mental health issues, including the question of capacity for private client lawyers, to be aware of attitudes and behaviour. Being armed with experience and knowledge about mental capacity issues and the importance of mental health awareness, private client lawyers have the means to support and to educate clients and their families. Reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues, such as capacity assessments, can help in shaping policies developed to improve the lives of people with mental illnesses and their families.

Private client solicitors routinely advise on complex areas of law which involve mental capacity. They provide specialist support in managing the affairs of elderly and vulnerable clients. Advances in medicine and technology presents challenges as issues of long-term care and capacity have become more important. Mental capacity issues are often a factor when Wills are being disputed; with health or social services about how or where a family member should be cared for and the choices they can make for themselves about day to day matters.

What our solicitors can do for you

Our specialist mental capacity solicitors are members of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).

The SFE is a specialist group of lawyers with an ethos to support and make a difference to older and vulnerable people. By vulnerable, the SFE mean people who may not be able bodied and/or who may be mentally incapacitated because they need help to make decisions or they are simply unable to make decisions for themselves.

Membership of STEP is widely recognised as the quality benchmark in private client work. STEP members have the benefit of specific training and expertise to assist on a broad range of private client matters. STEP has a Special Interest Group whose focus is on Mental Capacity.

For further advice and information, get in touch with our solicitors today.