Last column I explained how an estate plan should address what happens to you (and your things) if you become incapacitated. If you do not address these issues, the estate plan you are left with may create more problems than it solves.
I met recently with a kind and loving husband, doing all he could to take care of a spouse who would never again recognize him. Her dementia was profound, and he was exhausted. He could no longer care for her alone. As we reviewed their circumstances, it became apparent that they would need Medicaid to help pay for the assistance she needed.
However, this solution presented its own challenge. She was technically the Medicaid applicant. This meant she had to sign the Medicaid application. But given her dementia, she did not have the legal capacity, or ability to understand, what she was signing. This made her signature invalid.
As a result, we first had to go to Court and have her husband appointed as her guardian so that he had the authority to apply for his wife, and help her receive the assistance she needed. This was not an inexpensive process, and could have been avoided had her estate plan included one document before dementia struck.
Just as last week’s example showed the turmoil that could have been avoided with a Living Will, the delay and cost for this couple could have been avoided had she signed a power of attorney giving her husband the authority to handle her affairs when necessary.
A power of attorney is a document that allows you to determine who can make decisions for you if you become incapacitated, or simply because you want that convenience. It is a powerful document and must be handled carefully. In the wrong hands, it is worse than signing a blank check; it is giving authority to someone else to “be” you.
But with some common sense protections, it is a critical document that can help you maintain control; at least to ensure how you are taken care of if you are unable to make that decision at the time.
Just like a Living Will, a power of attorney should be part of your estate plan.
© 2015 Steven J Wright