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Making a contract with a mentally handicapped person

Toms River, NJ |

We have an item for sale on Craigslist that we are selling for $1,500. There is a person that seems to be mentally handicapped who has called us a number of times expressing interest in the item. He wants to take the bus to our house to see the item. Is it legal to sell something (enter a contract) with somebody who's mentally handicapped? If not, how do we go about telling him we can't sell it to him without being discriminating? Thank you for your help.

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Attorney answers 3

Best Answer

Before I respond to your inquiry, I must state that we have not spoken, I have not reviewed the relevant documents and facts, and I do not represent you. Therefore, my discussion below is not a legal opinion, but is informational only. Finally, my discussion applies only to issues to which Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Federal law apply, unless otherwise specified.

That being said, if a person is legally incompetent, they cannot be bound to contracts that they sign, unless a legal guardian or power of attorney signs with/for them. There is a difference between being mentally handicapped and legally incompetent, however, You should determine whether the person has a legal guardian/power of attorney if you can. If you aren't sure if the person is mentally handicapped enough to be legally incompetent (and you are unlikely to be able to make that determination on your own), you may be taking a risk in entering into a contract with that person; if they are not competent, their guardian/POA may be able to void the contract, and you would have to get your item back and return the money.

There is no illegal discrimination in refusing to contract with someone you believe is not competent to sign a contract.

If you would like to discuss this matter further, please feel free to contact me at the below address(es) or telephone number.

/Christopher E. Ezold/
The Ezold Law Firm, P.C.
One Belmont Avenue,
Suite 501
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
(610) 660-5585


Attorney Ezold has given you sound advice. I would simply add that you *may* be able to check online probate records to determine if the prospective buyer has a guardian or conservator acting on their behalf. These records will not reflect a possible Power of Attorney form, however.

When it becomes time for the buyer to pay, you will have a pretty good idea of the situation, depending on how payment is offered. If the buyer offers a check, and there is a guardian/conservator, that person's name will be on the check and you would accept it, at your own risk. If he paid cash or by some other method, there would be less certainty.

In my opinion, until you have evidence that this person does, in fact, have someone acting on their behalf, you should treat them in the same (careful) way that you would with any other prospective buyer. There are many people that appear on the surface to be a little "off", but are perfectly competent from a legal perspective.

James Frederick

I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in the subject area in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state.


As is noted above, there is a legal difference between mentally handicapped and legally incompetent. Someone who has been deemed legally incompetent cannot enter into a binding contract. Its not improper to engage in an honest business transaction with someone who is mentally handicapped. However, if the person has been deemed incompetent by a judicial body prior to this transaction, that person's guardian could challenge its validity and demand the $1,500 back.

Good luck.

DISCLAIMER: Please be advised that this post is not intended to constitute legal advice and is for informational purposes only. This posting in on way creates an attorney client relationship. You should contact an attorney to protect your interests.

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