It goes without saying that elderly people should have an estate plan in place that plans for incapacity and death, and the eventual distribution of their estate. However, if you are a “younger” person reading this (under age 60) and do not have an estate plan, then I highly suggest you contact an attorney immediately to draft one up. For small estates, your attorney may determine you need only a simple Will and Power of Attorney documents. If you have very little assets but are a parent of minor children you still need a Will to appoint a Guardian for your minor children should anything happen to you. For more moderate to high wealth estates, you may need a more comprehensive Trust and estate plan. Regardless of anyones age or financial status, everyone should have current Power of Attorney documents naming an Agent (or Agents) to act on their behalf for financial and health care decision-making, in the event they cannot do so themselves. If you need a referral to an estate planning attorney, please give me a call!
In all the years I’ve worked in the area of trusts and estates, whether as a paralegal or a Professional Fiduciary, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than a young person experiencing a catastrophic event and no longer being able to care for his or her own needs. Even sadder, is when that person has a family and young children. When we’re young, we like to think we will live forever and the thought that we may no longer be able to take care of ourselves at some point doesn’t even cross our minds. That period of time between being healthy and death is often overlooked. There can be years of physical incapability and mental incapacity. This period of time is why it’s essential to have Power of Attorney documents in place. Young people are not invincible to accidents or health issues and one of the best ways we can protect our families is to plan ahead, so they are not left scrambling, should this occur.
Well drafted Power of Attorney documents will avoid the need for costly and often slow to implement Conservatorships. A Power of Attorney can be effective as of its date of execution or it can be “springing” meaning it becomes effective only upon a qualifying event. This qualifying event is usually the medical diagnosis of mental incapacity by two independent doctors stating your inability to make your own financial or health care decisions. With a Power of Attorney your Agent can act on your behalf almost immediately. Without Powers of Attorney, your family members will have to Petition the Court for Conservatorship of the Estate (to manage your finances) and Conservatorship of the Person (to manage your healthcare). This court involvement is cumbersome and because it involves a hefty Conservatorship paperwork package to be drawn up by an attorney it can more quickly deplete yours or your family’s financial resources. Furthermore, Conservatorships are court supervised during the entire course of their establishment and they require ongoing petitions, paperwork and accountings to be completed and filed by attorneys, further depleting financial resources.
If you do not have a trusted family member or friend, or do not want to burden them with the responsibility, you can name a Professional Fiduciary in your Power of Attorney documents. Please contact me to discuss potentially naming me as your Financial or Health Care Agent in your Power of Attorney documents, and if you’re executing a Will or Trust, naming me as your Executor or Trustee, as well.
I am not a lawyer and the information contained in this article should not be construed as legal advice.