How many readers just love going to the Doctor and getting a shot? Not many, I’ll bet.
However, we understand how horrible it is to come down with a case of the flu, so most of us agree that voluntarily getting a flu shot is the right step to take. We march right up there to take our place in line – an action by which we say “Give me a Shot.”
Did you ever imagine, especially as a child, that you would ever utter those words?
Likewise, pre-planning and completing estate planning documents can function as a
vaccine, so to speak, protecting you and your family against future legal problems.
Just as a doctor’s office sees a steady stream of sick people all day long, our office is often filled with people who are tangled up in legal issues and challenges. It frustrates attorneys to no end that many of these issues could have been absolutely prevented if proper legal work had been done beforehand.
As an example, it’s crucial to “inoculate” yourself against unavoidable health and end-of-life scenarios through preparation of proper planning and legal documents executed to cause all manner of things to work out the way you want them to. Not taking those steps often causes major legal headaches, involving costly trips to court and the hiring of a lawyer to resolve.
Here’s one very common example of a predictable, but easily avoidable situation: Mom is a widow. She falls ill and requires an extended hospital stay. She has expenses that need to be taken care of, but she is unable to sign checks. Mom has never signed any legal documents allowing family members or friends to act on her behalf. She has savings, but they are out of reach of family members for the same reason. Now family members must pay her day to day living expenses such as utility bills and real estate taxes out of their own pockets.
They could refuse to do so, but mom’s house is probably an asset they need to protect. If her utilities were shut off in the heart of winter and the pipes froze, her house could suffer severe and expensive damage. Similarly, not paying taxes could lead to foreclosure of her house, or possibly the house being sold at auction for nonpayment of taxes.
Other cases are much more complicated. The point of this one, among other things, is that during a time when family members are undergoing tremendous stress concerning mom’s health, spending much of their free time visiting her in the hospital and having to become medical experts in order to make sure she’s getting the best care, they don’t need additional burdens. They shouldn’t have to scrounge around to find the money – and perhaps even be forced to borrow and pay interest – in order to shoulder mom’s financial responsibilities. To add insult to injury, often monthly checks to pay these expenses are being direct-deposited into mom’s bank accounts, to which the family has no access.
The basic five that make up the legal safety net that we advise you put into place are: 1) A Will or Trust; 2) a Health Care Power of Attorney, sometimes called a “health proxy; 3) a Living Will or Advance Directive; 4) a Financial durable, general power of attorney and 5) electronic information for your executor called a “Digital Diary.”
When should you do these things? Honestly, you should do them as soon as possible. A child just becoming an adult at age 18 (according to the State of Maryland) absolutely needs to execute a Health Care Power of Attorney. Do you know why?
Additionally, cognitive capacity is required to execute the documents being discussed. If someone gets early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, they may not have capacity to memorialize their wishes in this matter. If you are in a car accident and damaged brain function, it would most likely be too late to do pre-planning.
If you haven’t done them sooner, do all FIVE BY AGE FIFTY-FIVE! If you have already passed that birthday, get in here and get them done post-haste!
Thanks for reading. Stay Well. See you next month.