Harper Lee Case and the Ability to Consent

Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is 88 years old and resides in an assisted living facility in Alabama. She has maintained a lifelong aversion to publicity and an insistence that she would never publish again. When HarperCollins announced that a book by Lee would be published in July, questions immediately arose. Public communication from Lee about the book came only from her publisher, her literary agent and her attorney. Lee’s friends expressed concern over whether she has the capacity to consent to the publication of the work, Go Set a Watchman, and as a result, a formal investigation was undertaken by the State of Alabama.

After extensive interviews with Lee, her friends and employees at the facility, the investigation was closed without a finding of abuse or neglect. Regardless, this case highlights the importance of a senior’s ability to consent and the potential for abuse.

For consent to be legal and proper, the person consenting needs to have sufficient mental capacity to understand the implications and ramifications of his or her actions. If it is unclear what a senior understands about a transfer of property or a document such as a will or trust, then the potential for wrongdoing arises. Seniors can be at risk from investment swindles, phony charities and other forms of financial fraud. They can be exploited by strangers, health aides or even friends and family members. It is important to be alert for warning signs that someone may be taking advantage of a senior’s inability to consent, and get help if such exploitation is suspected.

If elders or their loved ones suspect that a senior has been taken advantage of, they can get help from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. Residents can call 1-800-342-3009 (press Option 6) for the phone number of their county adult services office or visit this link for more information.

 

Learn more about our services by visiting www.elderlawnewyork.com.


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