Planning for Incapacity


Most dinner time conversations do not revolve around matters of death and incapacity. In fact, according to the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils, over 120 million Americans have not yet put together an estate plan. Although this dinnertime discussion may be morbid, it can lead to completion of forms that will protect your loved ones from unneeded emotional hardship and wasted money.

A strong estate plan includes documents for incapacity planning. Incapacitation can happen to anyone, regardless of age. A young adult could fall into a coma after a motor vehicle accident or an elderly patient could suffer from debilitating dementia.

Because everyone is vulnerable to incapacitation, it is important to compile documents addressing both medical and financial decisions.

Documents Needed to Protect Medical Decisions

If incapacitated, many medical decisions need to be made. The following documents can guide both loved ones and medical professionals:

  • Living will
  • Health care power of attorney

Living wills often include written instructions regarding life prolonging medical care like blood transfusions, respirators and surgery, do not resuscitate directives, and pain management instructions.

In contrast, a health care power of attorney gives control over medical decisions to a loved one. The delegated individual can make decisions that are not addressed within a living will ranging from visitation rights and access to medical records to which medical facility should provide treatment.

Documents Needed to Protect Financial Decisions

Medical decisions are not the only ones likely to arise during these tragic times. Often, while receiving treatment bills need to be paid. If incapacitated, it may be difficult for a loved one to access financial accounts to make payments. As a result, it is important to complete a durable power of attorney.

A durable power of attorney allows designation of an individual to make financial decisions on behalf of another.

Proper Execution of These Documents Provides Many Levels of Protection

In addition to ease of mind, proper execution of these documents allows your loved ones to fulfill your wishes without court involvement. Often, if someone is not designated to make these decisions court involvement is required to appoint a conservator or guardian.

The process takes both time and money, and can easily be avoided. It is important to contact an experienced wills and trusts lawyer to ensure all needed documents are completed.

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