Probate and Mental Health Cases

When people think of probate, most often they associate the term with decedent's estates, trust proceedings, guardian proceedings, and more. Yet probate courts work with a variety of cases. One of these is civil commitments. In these cases, a probate judge determines whether or not a person suffering from a mental illness should be placed in a hospital or another place of containment. Civil commitment cases are normally filed in a probate court, and opened when someone files an affidavit alleging that a person is mentally ill.

In the affidavit, that person can file a request to send the man or woman to a mental hospital. While the case is going on, the judge may choose to put the person-in-question in detainment at a mental institution. Normally a civil commitment court cases hearing is held five days after the day that that person is detained and inspected. Mental illness in these cases is normally determined as a substantial disorder of thought, mood, orientation, or perception. According to the Butler County Probate Court, it can also be a memory that grossly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality, or the ability to meet the ordinary demands of life.

In order to sentence an individual to a mental hospital, a probate judge must determine mental instability from a number of factors. One of these is if the person is dangerous to self, as shown by attempts to commit suicide or inflict serious bodily harm. As well, the judge may see that the person is dangerous to other as shown by threats and attempts to harm them. If a person is unable to provide for his or her own physical needs, or that the person is infringing on the substantial rights of self or others, then he or she may be sentenced to a mental institution.

Currently, probate judges in Alabama are concerned about the end of mental hospitals in the state. The North Alabama Regional Hospital in Decatur, Alabama is looking at a possible closure in September 2012, according to the Department of Mental Health. This mental hospital, along with two others, Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in Tuscaloosa and Bryce Hospital, will shut down to make room for a new community-based facility that is set to open in 2013.

An Alabama probate judge says that these mental hospitals are closing to make way for regional care, but it signals a major problem. If the Department of Mental Health begins to shut down the mental hospitals in the state, then it would have a ripple effect that would impact thousands of men and women suffering from mental illness. This would, in turn, affect the probate system, which deals with civil commitment cases.

As one probate judge explained in an interview for The Times Daily, hospitals like North Alabama regional are important because these are the locations where they transfer people with an acute mental illness. Without them, it will be difficult for the court to place mental patients under the needed supervision. These locations provided long term treatment, but that is no longer available if they are closed down.

The Department of Mental Health explains that by shutting down these larger facilities in Alabama, the patients will be moved to customized, community-focused locations where they will be given one-on-one care. The smaller community based programs work somewhat like halfway houses and do not provide the long time, court-ordered care that some people need. Only time will tell how this complicated procedure will continue to affect the probate courts of Alabama and their verdicts on civil commitment.