1. Lack of legal ability to do something, especially to testify or stand trial. Also known as "incompetency." May be caused by various types of disqualification, inability, or unfitness. Someone who is judged incompetent by means of a formal hearing may have a guardian appointed by the court. Sometimes the sole disqualification is age; see minority.
2. In popular usage, a general lack of ability or qualification to do something.
In some jurisdictions, any “interested” person may petition for a court to declare someone incompetent. Other jurisdictions apply tighter restrictions on the petitions. Before the hearing, the court or petitioner must notify the alleged incompetent. In some states, members of the alleged incompetent’s family must also be notified. Participation in the hearing is not limited to those who received notice. Instead, any interested person may get involved. For example, if a government agency petitioned a court to declare an elderly woman incompetent, the woman’s children could come before the court to argue that their mother was competent, even if the children did not receive formal notice of the hearing.
Incompetence hearings do not follow the typical adversarial plaintiff v. defendant pattern. Instead, their rules and procedures assume that everyone involved wants what is best for the alleged incompetent. Frequently, courts use guardians ad litem or other court-appointed investigators to assist them in determining whether a person is incompetent. Incompetence hearings are usually conducted by a probate court, family court, or other court of limited jurisdiction.
When a person petitions a court to declare someone incompetent, they may also suggest a candidate to become that person’s guardian. Others may submit alternate candidates. The court is not required to accept anyone’s suggestion. See Guardian.
Contested incompetency hearings can be very difficult and expensive. See Guardian.