Perhaps one of the most misunderstood parts of some contested guardianship cases is the physician’s report. In order to become an adult’s legal guardian, you must generally prove that guardianship is actually necessary. To do this, a South Carolina petitioner must provide evidence to the court that the adult is indeed mentally or physically unfit to provide for his or her own care. This, in turn, requires a medical report from a treating physician, which certifies that there is a need for guardianship.
However, in recent years, Greenville elder law and guardianship attorneys have begun to see neuropsychological assessments play a larger role in determining mental competence. Here’s what you should understand about these reports.
What Is a Neuropsychologist?
In short, a neuropsychologist is a psychologist who focuses on how the interconnection between physical manifestations in the brain impact cognitive and behavioral functions. In other words, how do physical changes play a role in perceivable actions? This unique field of study generally requires a doctoral degree in psychology. Neuropsychologists in most states do not prescribe medications; however, there is evidence that this is changing. In most states, a psychiatrist would be the medical physician who prescribes medications, whereas a psychologist would be focused on clinical counseling, therapy, and behavioral techniques. Some states, including Illinois, New Mexico, and Louisiana have granted psychologists, including many neuropsychologists, the right to prescribe medications under limited circumstances.
How Do Neuropsychologists Assist in Guardianship Cases?
Because many organic brain syndromes like dementia are perceivable in MRIs, neuropsychologists can often combine the objective evidence found in radiological exams with measurable evaluations and interviews to get a well-rounded picture of an aging person and their relative abilities to function independently. In cases where a senior may be borderline competent, a qualified neuropsychological evaluation may be the very thing that helps to tip the evidence one way or the other.
Cautions About Neuropsychological Evidence
Neuropsychological evaluations are not as simple as a few boxes to check on an interview questionnaire. Rather, these evaluations and their resulting reports are the product of a series of comprehensive sessions. Many neuropsychologists spend upwards of 6 to 12 hours in sessions with a patient before rendering a complete report regarding their competence and ability to make certain types of decisions.
Why Might a Person Want to Retain a Neuropsychologist?
These evaluations are very expensive, so they should be used sparingly. However, if you have a loved one whom you suspect is being exploited, or if a senior is attempting to fight off an unwanted and unwarranted attempt to gain access to their estate, then having a neuropsychological assessment performed may go a long way in convincing a court that mental capacity remains. Likewise, the opposite may be true. In some cases, aging or mentally infirm individual may still be grasping to their independence by fighting a guardianship case. Maybe their long-time doctor has signed off saying they are fine, but family and friends know they are at risk. A court-ordered neuropsychological evaluation could be just the opportunity for a thorough and more meaningful evaluation of the person’s true function.
Angela Elliot Frazier is a Family Law Attorney who practices in Greenville, SC. She graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 14 years now. Angela Frazier believes in helping you through one of the most stressful times of your life. Learn more about her experience by clicking here.