Confidentiality is one of the hallmarks of the attorney-client relationship. Clients expect their attorney to uphold the confidential nature of their discussions, and attorneys must adhere to a strict code of conduct to protect the public they represent. But what happens if the attorney questions the capacity of their client?
Capacity can be a complex legal doctrine, but legal capacity is required by parties of a valid contract. Moreover, standards of capacity can also vary by they type of contract entered into as well as by different states in which the contract is governed. For example, capacity to create a valid Last Will and Testament requires the one creating the will to know the general nature of their possessions and who their legal heirs are. Another standard may be applied to a more complex legal transaction.
Attorney Mark C. Palmer, Chief Counsel at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, addresses how attorneys can work with clients that are demonstrating cognitive decline. In his article,
Diminished Capacity of a Client: How Should a Lawyer Respond? | Q&A, Palmer discusses three questions an attorney needs to consider:
- How does a lawyer know if the client has diminished capacity?
- How might this change how a lawyer represents a client?
- What protective measures can the lawyer take while meeting ethical obligations?
If you have concerns about the capacity of your aging loved one to execute a valid legal contract, consult with a qualified legal professional, preferably a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) as well as your loved one’s medical provider. It is these professionals’ responsibility to independently determine whether your loved ones have the required capacity to act in their best interests.
Mark C. Palmer is Chief Counsel at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. Mark writes on civility, professionalism and future law for the Commission’s 2Civility blog and delivers statewide professionalism programming, including a lawyer mentoring program, to attorneys and law students across Illinois. Follow him @palmerlaw.