By Sandy Larson
Most of us are reluctant to think about what needs to happen should we become incapacitated. There are so many aspects of this to consider that we will only cover the most fundamental issues—powers of attorney and health care directives.
The most fundamental need in the case of incapacity is having someone authorized to act on your behalf should you not be able to conduct business for yourself. A durable power of attorney allows someone you have selected to act on your behalf should you not be available either due to proximity or capacity. The “durable” part of a power of attorney is important because it allows someone to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Other types of powers of attorney end when the grantor becomes incapacitated. As you get older and/or you travel extensively at any age, designating someone to have authority to act for you is important. If you need to have something done when you are traveling or are unavailable for any reason, granting power to conduct business or make medical decisions for you is comforting.
Set up a plan to have someone step in and handle your daily responsibilities. If you were suddenly unable to be home to take care of things, who could you turn to? I have friends who have keys to my home and are trustworthy, willing and able to step in and help at a moment’s notice. I know I am very lucky to have them! If you don’t feel confident asking a friend or family member to be that person, find out if anyone in your area provides a home-monitoring service. This may be a cleaning service, property management company or something similar. These types of companies are usually bonded which may help you to feel more confident relying upon them.
Health care directives:
I know this can be a sensitive subject, but it is essential to address while you are well and feel confident making critical life decisions. Take time to contemplate who you would like making decisions for you should you be unable to make them for yourself regarding incapacity or end of life decisions. In our family’s plan, we have several health care providers who are willing and able to abide by the decisions we have outlined in our living wills and other health care directives. When discussing this at dinner one night a friend said to me, “don’t worry, Sandy, I would pull the plug for you.” While we laughed at that statement, I was grateful knowing that if the worst happened, I have someone courageous enough to stand by my end of life directives. Work with your attorney to create the proper documents to support your decisions. Make certain the executed documents are in the hands of the people who would need to use them. Do not leave any of these things to chance. Do not think that you can continue to delay these decisions. Hopefully you will never need to exercise the powers set out in any of these documents; however, it will be comforting to know that you have a plan of action should the need arise.
I attended a Financial Planning Association convention years ago. During one of the breakout sessions, the most-injured survivor of the 9/11 attack on Pentagon addressed the attendees. He said that amidst the chaos of the aftermath of the attack, he and his wife were comforted knowing that they had all contingencies covered. All of the decisions were made, documents executed, and investments and insurance in place. All they had to do was deal with his injuries and convalescence. It was a great testament to the value of having completed the process of financial and estate planning and keeping everything current.
Review any documents you have already prepared. If it has been a long period of time since they were executed, have your attorney review them. Laws change and sometimes your documents will need to be updated. Also, meet with the person or persons you have designated for various roles in your estate plan. Make certain they are still willing and able to assume the role they have been assigned. Then you can rest easy knowing that your ducks are in a row again!