A Hospital Signing Incident: Reduced Mental Capacity

By Tim Gatewood—I received a call this week from an adult daughter of a man who had recently had a stroke and had been moved to a rehabilitation hospital here in Memphis. She wanted me to come to the rehab hospital to notarize a letter from her dad so she can “get the ball rolling” on gathering up all his stuff and moving him out of state with her.

I went through all the issues that have to be addressed on a hospital signing with her. She assured me that there will be no problems with any of these issues.

I arrived early; they got back from Physical Therapy late. She and I had a nice chat while we were waiting for the nurse to bring him in. When he arrived, I followed the usual hospital signing protocol and engaged him in conversation. Or rather, I tried to do so.

I asked him who he is, he said his name. (Okay, great, he is oriented in identity ‐ he knows who he is.)
When I asked him what day it is, he said his address. (Not really the answer I was looking for there.)
I asked him what day of the week it is; he said his address. (Okay, not good.)
I asked him what day yesterday was; he said his address. (I’m seeing a pattern here.)
Finally, I asked him what month it was; he said his address. (Okay, definitely not communicating well.)

I informed his daughter that I can’t notarize for him, as he is unable to show that he is oriented in space, time and purpose (as my lawyer said they need to do whenever there is a question about mental capacity).

While I am not qualified to judge someone’s mental capacity, if they cannot communicate with me well enough to establish that they are signing freely and willingly with awareness of the purpose of the document, I simply cannot Notarize for them.

As she said, he had a stroke 2 days ago, for Pete’s sake! Why is she rushing this? She said it was because she only has 2 weeks to empty his safe and his house, sell the house and move him to Illinois with her.

In the end, I didn’t notarize for him (I did for her on a separate document) and she paid me and I left. And the kicker is she claimed she’s a Notary in IL, so she should know better!

My wife later pointed out to me that maybe “Daddy” could give the right answers but chose to give the wrong ones as a passive-aggressive way to prevent her from taking control away from him.

This incident is one example of why hospital signings are one of the trickiest things that a Notary Public can do.