Should we try to get a competency hearing to overtake my partner's father's care?

1 answer | Last updated: Apr 20, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My partner's father has penile cancer. He has refused to treat it medically, instead using herbs and supplements he gets via mail order. It has gotten agonizingly painful and he finally sought help. However, as the date of the surgery approaches he is balking again and as he has unmanaged diabetes he is getting very difficult to deal with. He won't accept help from my partner in managing legal and billing matters. Should we involve a judge and try to get a competency hearing?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

You can try involving the legal system, but you should know from the start that it’s likely to be an uphill battle.

If your partner’s father is starting to need help managing his medical and financial matters, the first and least intrusive step you could take would be to secure a power of attorney that would name another person who could become responsible for this help. Unfortunately, however, the person for whom a power of attorney is attained must also consent to it—and it sounds as if the person you describe is unlikely to cooperate.

The other possible legal intervention is a bit more drastic: securing an adult guardianship or conservatorship. This procedure involves something similar to what you hinted at with the competency hearing. It requires someone to go to the local probate court and convince the judge there that an individual is mentally or physically incapable of taking care of his or her own health or finances or both. This is a fairly drastic step—and practically speaking, requires proof that the person is no longer capable of living alone and unsupervised and cannot make sound decisions.

Unless your partner’s father’s mental condition has deteriorated to the point where he is no longer willing or interested in reasoning, the best approach here may be the informal one of trying to talk through the situation—possibly with the help of a third person whom the father knows and respects: a trusted family friend, a doctor who embraces both conventional and alternative medicine, another relative. Urge your partner to approach the conversation with an open ear and mind, as well as respect for his father’s right to choose medical treatment he finds most fitting.

Finally, if these legal and practical approaches don’t work, encourage your partner to accept his father’s bullheadedness for now, to convey his concern for his well-being—and to strive to have some good time together while there’s still time to do it.