If my father has shown signs of insanity, for example, I might file a lawsuit demanding that he be denied his right to control his property. This legal order annuls any purchase, sale or donation made by him on the grounds of his being unable to make wise financial decisions. What do you call such an order in English? And if I want to let my father know of my intention to take away his property control right, how can I properly say this in English? I'm thinking:

Dad, I'm going to file a lawsuit against you to take away your control over your assets.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because a) the term sought will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and b) it's really a question for Law. Dec 4, 2018 at 21:50
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    @StoneyB but we routinely answer questions that have multiple words in different countries. For example, Q: What is the name for the strip of concrete that runs alongside a road, and on which people walk? A: The British call it a "pavement", the Americans and Canadians call it a "sidewalk", and the Australians call it a "footpath". I'm sure if Sara actually means to carry this out she'll consult with a local professional who knows the proper terminology, but in the meantime she's just asking how to refer to it in English.
    – Andrew
    Dec 6, 2018 at 0:10
  • @Andrew Yes, but in the case of the sidewalk/pavement/&c we're all talking about the same thing. In OP's case we may think we're talking about the same thing, but we're not: what a court may order varies widely in different countries (and different US states). I would not be happy to see linguists providing OP with language that might be irrelevant, and even compromise his case. Dec 6, 2018 at 3:09

4 Answers 4


The official term for this under U.S. law is mental incompetence, and under UK law it seems to be mental incapacity, although it's likely both terms are commonly used.

Mental incompetence is the inability of a person to make or carry out important decisions regarding his or her affairs. An individual is defined as mentally incompetent if h/she is manifestly psychotic or otherwise of unsound mind, either consistently or sporadically, by reason of mental defect. A few examples of such a mental defect are retardation, schizophrenia, and dementia.

However (in the U.S.) you don't usually file a lawsuit for this issue. Instead (and note the common italicized legal terms), if you want to use this as a justification to gain control of their assets, you petition a judge to declare someone mentally incompetent. The law on this will vary from place to place, but a mental health professional will normally be involved in this process, who will perform a psychological evaluation (or mental health assessment) on the person, and then submit a report to the judge.

I don't think these kind of decisions ever involve trial, and certainly it's nothing a jury would decide. The case will involve one or more hearings during which the judge will review the evidence, and then rule one way or the other. If the court finds that the person is mentally incompetent, it can appoint a legal guardian to made decisions on their behalf. This may be a family member, or it may be a neutral third party.

In some cases if the person is deemed a harm to himself or to others, you may petition the judge to have them involuntarily committed, meaning that they will be placed in a psychiatric hospital or similar institution.

[Edit] Another answer has suggested power of attorney to describe this situation; however this is usually a process in which someone voluntarily grants someone else, often a legal professional, the power to act on their behalf. Power of attorney can be given for all kinds of reasons, not just mental illness, and is often limited.

Guardianship is often much broader in scope:

The guardian can be authorized to make legal, financial, and health care decisions for the ward. Depending on the terms of the guardianship and state practices, the guardian may or may not have to seek court approval for various decisions. In many states, a person appointed only to handle finances is called a "conservator."


I would use the term 'power of attorney' which means a right to make decisions on another person's behalf. People often grant that voluntarily to others to be used if they are incapacitated by an accident. It is usually not restricted to financial decisions.

I suggest:

Dad, I'm going to ask a court to grant me power of attorney over your affairs.


Dad, I'm going to have you declared non compos mentis.


In the United States, one can go to court to establish a conservatorship for the person. A conservator or guardian is appointed by the court, and acts to protect the person's financial and other interests.

The role of a conservator has similarities to the role of the executor of an estate.

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