How to Commit Someone Without a Power of Attorney

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How to Commit Someone Without a Power of Attorney

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Committing a loved one because they are incompetent is never an easy decision. However, sometimes it isn't safe for someone suffering from mental illness to be in their own home or community. If you have medical power of attorney for your loved one, you may be able to arrange for your loved one's commitment and care without going to court. Without medical power of attorney, you need a court order authorizing the commitment.

Here are the steps you need to follow to commit someone when you don't have power of attorney.

Person pointing to paperwork while another person signs

1. Determine your state's requirements and procedures.

Procedures for involuntary commitment vary, depending on state laws. Determine which court handles these matters by contacting your county courthouse or state judiciary. The type of proceeding and the steps you follow may differ based on the underlying reason you seek commitment. Some common reasons people initiate commitment proceedings include:

  • Mental illness
  • Chemical dependency
  • Developmental disability
  • Sexually dangerous persons

A common thread in different types of involuntary commitments is that the person being committed poses a danger to themselves or others. This is sometimes a difficult standard to prove. Courts must balance the person's civil rights and patient rights with the risk of harm.

2. Petition the court for commitment.

In some states, any adult may request an investigation to ascertain whether commitment of another person is warranted. In other states, only a close family member or mental health provider may initiate the process.

State laws also vary with respect to who can file a petition with the court. Your state may allow you as a concerned family member or friend to file a petition for commitment. Otherwise, the county attorney or another party files petitions based on information gathered during the investigative process.

3. Wait for the court's decision.

Civil and mental health courts that handle commitments understand the time-sensitivity surrounding these matters. Courts generally schedule initial hearings as quickly as possible after receiving petitions, in some cases within 72 hours, not counting legal holidays or weekends. If your loved one does not have an attorney representing their interests, the court appoints one.

The court weighs information provided in the petition, input from medical providers who have examined your loved one, and ensures due process. The judge presiding over the matter decides whether there is enough evidence to order involuntary commitment of your loved one or if another alternative would help your loved one get the care they need without commitment.

If the court orders commitment, the order generally states how long the initial commitment period lasts, which differs from state to state. In some cases, including those involving sexually dangerous persons or mentally ill persons deemed dangerous to the public, the order may not include an end date.

When you give a trusted family member or friend power of attorney over your affairs, they can arrange for your care more easily if you later become incapacitated or incompetent. For assistance creating a power of attorney, consider working with an online service provider. You can also hire an attorney licensed in your state to help with this process.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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