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A situation that involves someone who may be mentally ill requires that advisors understand the degree to which those involved may have diminished capacity. Consider this example from my practice.

Susan, a 66-year-old woman, lives with her fifth husband in a home that he owned before the marriage. She has struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues and drug addiction throughout her adult life. She has married to have others take care of her. Susan is divorced four times, has no career, rarely held a job and has no savings. Her two adult daughters no longer speak with her.

When Susan and her current husband met, he was a practicing attorney and seemed to have a viable practice. However, he is a “social” alcoholic and has developed significant health issues leaving him incapable of working or taking care of his wife any longer. Susan and her husband were introduced to a homeless woman who needed a place to live. The homeless woman moved into their home in exchange for caregiver services.

Recently Susan reached out to her out-of-state sister begging for help. Susan stated she can no longer live with her husband because their money is running out, he is sick and she cannot care for him. She asked her sister and brother-in-law if they would move her into her own apartment with a companion because she does not know how to take care of a home or handle her own matters. She asked if they would cover her expenses on a monthly basis because they had told her in the past that they, “would never let her drown.” However, Susan changes her mind daily about leaving her husband depending on her emotional state.

Susan’s sister asked her to execute advance directives so they would have legal authority to step in and help her in case of a medical or financial emergency. They, in fact, offered to pay for the legal services to make it easier for her. Susan stated she does not think it reasonable to ask her to execute the documents because she does not want anyone having authority to tell her what to do.