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Financial capacity in older adults: a growing concern for clinicians

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Determination of whether an older person is capable of managing their own financial affairs is a vexing question for health and legal professionals, as well as government agencies such as courts and tribunals. This process is often stressful for older people, and families can find that deciding when to take over is a frustrating and divisive exercise. Having family members manage an older person’s assets may result in or exacerbate existing family conflict.

In this article, we define financial capacity and provide an overview of the assessment process, the potential impact of impaired capacity on older adults and implications for clinicians. We focus on best-practice suggestions for clinical management of questions of financial capacity.

What is financial capacity?

Financial capacity entails the ability to satisfactorily manage one’s financial affairs in a manner consistent with personal self-interest and values.1 Although the terms competency and capacity are often used interchangeably in this literature,2 we will refer to capacity throughout. The capacity to appropriately manage financial affairs has both performance and judgement aspects,3 which are distinct in that older people can have limitations in one or both. For example, an older person may be capable of carrying out financial transactions such as purchasing items,…