On a recent bright and sunny morning, I had two conversations before 10 AM with individuals seeking information about estate planning. That’s not unusual. However, the conversations were with family members seeking to learn about what can be done for a loved one who has some memory loss.
The conversations went something like this:
- I need to get something in place giving me the ability to handle my wife’s financial/business affairs;
- Can a power of attorney be prepared and signed by my father now that he has some issues with memory (possibly dementia);
- We need help now – what can we do?
These are tough conversations. Sometimes, the loved ones have waited too late to make decisions for themselves. They lack capacity to authorize agreements or sign documents. Unfortunately, caregivers and family members are left with few options when this happens.
There are a few things that you can do to hopefully, prevent your family member or caregiver from having to make one of these calls on your behalf:
- Get your estate planning (basics – will, power of attorney, advance medical directive, you may need a trust and other items) done while you are well;
- Put estate planning documents in place, especially a power of attorney, before an illness or memory loss happens;
- Know that if you do not have the proper estate planning documents in place and you lack the capacity to make your own decisions, a guardianship (through the courts) may be needed.
- Consider that the guardianship process (judges and attorneys are involved and a person is appointed to act on your behalf) is not simple or ideal in most cases.
Every one has an estate, regardless of the size of your bank account or value of assets. Getting an estate plan is not just for other folks. As my mother always said, “once you know better, do better.”
The pain that I hear in the voices of family members, and the sadness I see in their eyes is unfortunate.
The information in this post is intended for informational purposes only and not to provide legal advice. Consult with an estate planning attorney about your particular situation.
Aquanetta J. Betts is an attorney and speaker. She is licensed in Washington D.C., and Maryland. Her practice focuses on the areas of wills, trusts, estates and planned giving. Connect with her on Twitter @AquanettaBetts.