Alzheimer or Dementia Patient Notarization
A Colorado Notary must use reasonable care to determine whether a signer is aware of the purpose of the document being signed. When dealing with a patient that has Alzheimer’s or dementia or any other illness or injury that may affect judgment or understanding, the notary should use a high degree of care.
As a routine procedure, the notary should attempt to carry on a normal conversation with the signer. If the responses to notary questions are coherent, that provides evidence that the signer can comprehend questions and form appropriate answers. It is best to ask open-ended questions that demonstrate understanding and judgment, rather than “yes” or “no” questions.
Since the notary is not a medical professional, the notary does not make a medical diagnosis. But, the notary should gather some evidence that the signer appears to be coherent and aware. The notary may ask the signer to explain the purpose of the document, and if the signer understands the document and is signing voluntarily.
If a notary is aware that a physician has made a diagnosis that the patient is not mentally competent, the notary should not proceed with the signing. If the notary is not aware of any diagnosis, the notary should check for awareness.
Alzheimer’s has several stages of progression. A patient with early stage Alzheimer’s may still be aware and capable of understanding and signing a document. A patient in the later stages of Alzheimer’s would no longer have sufficient awareness and understanding.
The Alzheimer’s Association web site mentions one mental exercise that may be used to demonstrate comprehension. Ask the patient to start at 100 and then count backwards by 7. The notary can monitor the number sequence to check for a correct response.
Senior citizens and patients in nursing homes are more likely to have mental impairments, but younger patients might also have problems caused by injury or illness, or may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, including marijuana. The notary should always check for awareness with all signers before notarizing. Patients might be more alert in the morning after coffee or breakfast, rather than later in the day.
As the population ages, notaries will encounter more signers with mental impairments, and should be prepared to handle situations that arise. If the notary is not convinced that the signer has sufficient awareness and understanding, the notary should decline or refuse to notarize the document, and should make a note of the reason for declining to notarize in the notary journal.
If the document requires one or more witnesses, each witness should also observe the signer and should not sign if the signer does not appear to be of sound mind.
A notary should not automatically decline to notarize for a signer with a mental impairment. The notary should attempt to serve all of the public, but use reasonable care or a high degree of care to determine awareness before notarizing.