Involuntary commitment to a mental hospital may sound like something out of a Gothic novel, but adults still become mentally incapacitated or form destructive addictions and may need someone to step in for them in the new millennium. A power of attorney is not necessary, either in cases of drug or alcohol abuse or mental incapacity, but if you don't have a health care POA, a court must approve the commitment.
Call your county courthouse to determine what court handles matters of commitment. If the person you’re concerned about is a minor, this will generally be the juvenile court.
Contact or visit the appropriate court. Ask for a petition to have someone committed. In some states, you must be the spouse or a blood relative of the person you want to commit. In other states, anyone can make such a request, but there are usually restrictions, such as that you actually witnessed behavior in the recent past that makes the person a danger to herself or others.
Complete the petition. It will most likely ask you to explain the behavior you witnessed that has you so concerned. Give as much detail as possible. For example, your parent might suffer from Alzheimer's, yet insist on living alone. If you visited her recently and found all her stovetop burners turned on and burning for no reason, this would signify dangerous behavior. Describe the scene; don't just say you think she's lost her faculties. Depending on your state's laws, you might also have to gather and submit a doctor’s report or statements from other corroborating witnesses.
Take your petition back to the court and file it with the court clerk. Some jurisdictions will immediately schedule you to speak with a judge, so you can orally detail why you think the person should be committed.
Attend the court hearing for commitment, if you’re required to give testimony. Some states might require you to appear and repeat under oath what you've already told the judge. Other states may not allow you to attend the hearing because the proceedings are confidential. If you can’t attend, you’ll receive notice of the outcome.
The exact details of the commitment process without a power of attorney vary from state to state. Generally, a law enforcement official will pick up the person you’re trying to commit after you file your petition. If the person you're committing is a loved one, you might want to remain close by to calm her, because she might be terrified when this happens. The court will take her into custody and have her examined by a physician, a mental health professional or both to determine her mental state. Your word is generally not enough to prompt a commitment hearing on its own, even if you have other witnesses. Only if a health professional deems the person to be a danger to herself or others will the court schedule a hearing.
Not all states will allow you to commit someone for drug or alcohol addiction. Commitment may be limited to those who are mentally ill, unless the use of a substance results in violent or suicidal behavior. Other states, such as Michigan, will not consider dangerous behavior a reason for commitment if the person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.