Some people have a limited understanding of what occurs during estate planning, and their misunderstanding may keep them from taking steps that could benefit them. For example, it is common for people to think of estate planning as a process that primarily benefits dependent family members or that deals with the distribution of assets after death.
As a result, someone without any children or with adult children and few assets in their name may feel like an estate plan isn’t really necessary. They might also make the mistake of only creating the most basic of documents. However, a thorough estate plan also provides a layer of protection if someone experiences incapacitation.
Incapacity could occur because of age. Some people come from families with a history of Alzheimer’s disease. Others could end up with a brain injury after a work accident or in a coma because of a car crash. Estate planning allows people to protect themselves from total vulnerability if they experience incapacitation.
How people protect themselves from incapacity
An estate plan can include living documents that address incapacitation in addition to the testamentary documents that have authority only after someone dies. Such documents can provide guidance and the legal right to act on behalf of someone who can’t speak for themselves.
Powers of attorney can give a trusted individual the authority to pay someone’s bills, manage their resources or make their medical decisions when they lose the ability to handle their affairs. Advance medical directives can provide clear instructions on someone’s wishes regarding what kind of medical care they receive and even what facility or professional provides their treatment. Although incapacitation is a relatively rare medical experience, it could result in someone receiving inappropriate treatment or experiencing financial hardship if they do not already have plans and protective paperwork in place when a medical emergency occurs.
Advanced planning can prevent a guardianship
Even if someone avoids an emergency like a car crash that leaves them in the hospital for months, they might still experience cognitive decline when they age. Durable powers of attorney allow someone to name their own agent to manage their affairs. A durable power of attorney retains its authority even if the courts declare someone permanently incapacitated. Such documents effectively allow someone to name their own guardian when they are still healthy.
Those who take the time to put together estate planning documents know what kind of care they will receive and that they have someone they trust to manage their financial matters if an emergency ever arises. Seeking legal guidance and discussing personal concerns and support needs in depth can be a good starting point for those who are looking to plan for the possibility of future medical incapacitation.