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Competency Evaluations - Wills and Guardianships

Psychologists are able to evaluate a person's cognitive functioning, memory capacity and reasoning ability. These factors are important in determining whether an individual is competent to execute a will, to determine medical directives relating to long term care, or to assign a power of attorney or open a trust account. This may also be a factor in divorce settlements, both in terms of understanding the settlement agreement, and in terms of a person's capacity to take care of themselves after the divorce. It may also affect employability, which can determine distribution of assets following divorce. For individuals obviously in mental decline, the role of the psychologist is to determine the cognitive deficits present so the court can determine whether it is appropriate to appoint a guardian to manage the person's financial affairs and to make medical decisions regarding long term care.

Psychological evaluation begins with a review of the person's medical and psychological records and history, with information being supplied by family members as well as the individual being evaluated. Following the record review, the individual is seen for a clinical interview, which includes several measures of orientation, short term memory and reasoning ability. Following the clinical interview, psychological testing is administered, according to the interview results, to objectively assess memory functions, cognitive reasoning ability and judgment. The psychologist then offers an expert opinion, based on the evaluation, regarding whether the person is capable of making decisions regarding their welfare and finances. This process is also done retroactively at times, to determine if an individual was competent when their last will was executed. To avoid this more difficult evaluation, it is wise to complete a competency exam prior to executing any important financial papers later in life. 

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