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Attorney Renee C. Walsh

Voluntary Admission to Behavioral Unit a.k.a Psychiatric Ward

A woman in her 60s presents herself to an attorney advising that her daughter and her family want to put her away in a mental institution and take her assets. She tells the attorney that she is sane and does not want to be put away and needs the attorney’s protection. She says she will gladly pay for the service and the attorney promises to look into the matter. Later that evening, the attorney attempts to reach the client but is unable. Knowing that something seems amiss, the attorney contacts the client’s daughter and is informed that the client has admitted herself into the hospital psychiatric ward. The son further advises that his mother will have to be placed in a home.

The next day, the attorney visits the client at the hospital and she still appears totally lucid. The two devise a plan of action to ensure that the client returns home as soon as possible. The client is less nervous about the whole situation than the day before, but is still concerned. A few days later, the client telephones the attorney and tells her that she is no longer needs any help, she is in control of the situation and has even been promised that she is going to go back home.

Now, what should the attorney do? The attorney has information that the client has been visited by her daughter and her family. The attorney also knows that the daughter has been collaborating with a former attorney of the client. The former attorney prepared the client’s powers of attorney and her Will with the power of attorney going to the daughter. The former attorney now agrees with the daughter that the client will need to be placed in a home in the near future. The new attorney has a question of whether the client has been unduly pressured and now, having been medicated and subdued, has become complacent about her situation. The attorney also questions whether the former attorney has a conflict of interest having prepared the estate package for the client, but now advocating that she be placed in a facility when he is aware that she wants to go home.

This situation does occur and we should all be prepared for it. What happens when a client comes to you vehemently wanting your protection from her worst fear; that fear indeed occurs; only now the client is complacent having likely been drugged and pressured! What is the attorney’s obligation?

Discussion:

  1. I have a friend in her 70’s in exactly the same situation. Her son tried to take her property and build a house on it. When she threatened to stop him with a lawyer, he took her to a psychiatrist. She disappeared for a whole year. I found where she was by calling the family every 3 months and finally the granddaughter told me where she was. I went there and applied to be a volunteer, so I could bypass the visitor sign in sheet. I see her every month as a volunteer in her unit. She is lucid. She has a tether on her ankle and cries and talks about the trips we took in the past, and her dog. I really feel sorry for her.

    I think that lawyer should pursue giving this lady freedom from the abuse of her son who is using her money for himself.

  2. Ms. Walsh, I greatly appreciate your blog and the public service it provides.

    This particular entry kind of leaves me hanging! If I had to guess, I’d say that the attorney has a duty to at least pursue the matter to determine whether or not the client is acting on her own free will or is being coerced. How the attorney goes about that is beyond me, but I would think that an attorney with conscience would at least try.

    So what in your view is the answer?

    Thanks again.

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