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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Failure to plan for incapacity may lead to more intrusive help later

Nobody really wants to envision their future selves as incapacitated to the point of not being able to manage their own money and health care. Unfortunately, refusing to think about it doesn't prevent it. We don't know in advance whether will we suffer from an injury or health issue that will cause a loss of mental capacity, but it's essential that we have a plan in place to deal with it if it happens.

The usual documents put into place to deal with future incapacity are an Enduring (or Continuing or Durable, depending on where you live) Power of Attorney and a Personal Directive (or Health Care Directive, Advance Directive or Health Care Proxy). When you put these documents into place, you choose who will represent you when you lose capacity. You can set guidelines and limits on what they can do. You can express your wishes about how you want to live.

Having these documents in place greatly decreases the chance that anyone will have to apply to the courts to be appointed as a guardian or trustee (or committee) for you. Instead of having a court-appointed person who has absolute control over every aspect of your health care with no input from you, you can name someone you trust and give them some guidelines.

Instead of having a court-appointed trustee who is not of your choosing and who can sell or re-arrange your financial matters as he or she thinks best, you can give some instructions on what to do with specific assets or business matters. You can build in terms that allow other family members to be informed of what is happening or build in added accountability for your representative. You can retain more dignity and independence.

The bottom line is that with these documents in place, you retain some choice and control. Without them, other people might one day have to choose for you, and impose their wishes and ideas on you whether you like it or not.

Financially, setting up documents in advance is better too. Each of the documents here will only cost a couple of hundred dollars. Applying to the courts to become a trustee, with all of the paperwork and time involved, is much more expensive (and that comes out of your pocket, not the pocket of the person who is applying).

Planning for incapacity is just as important as planning for your eventual death. Make an Enduring Power of Attorney and Personal Directive a part of your estate planning.

1 comment:

  1. You couldn’t be more right about life when you said “refusing to think about it doesn't prevent it”. Many people struggle with this issue and need to hear about the ways they can cover themselves for the future.


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