It’s never too early to start planning for old age. Cognitive decline and the inability to make lucid decisions can occur to anyone. Before they do, it is crucial to put what you want to happen should you no longer be able to decide for yourself. This article will discuss the consequences of not having an estate plan and the benefits of having one with a power of attorney and a health directive.
Conservatorship and the Possibility of Abuse
A conservatorship may be necessary when elderly people can no longer make decisions for themselves. A conservatorship is a legal relationship in which one person (the “conservator”) is appointed by a court to make decisions on behalf of another person (the “conservatee”).
The conservator has the legal authority to make financial and medical decisions for the conservatee. A conservatorship is the last resort and should only be used when all other options, such as a power of attorney or a health directive, have been exhausted.
Unfortunately, conservatorship abuse can happen, and many cases have come to light. The conservator may have ulterior motives, such as gain access to the conservatee‘s money or property. In some cases, the conservator may even be the one who caused the conservatee to become incapacitated in the first place.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in 2010 on Cases of Financial Exploitation, Neglect, and Abuse of Seniors since 1990. It noted that assets worth $5.4 million were stolen by conservators or guardians from 158 people. There were also cases of physical abuse. In several cases, the courts lacked proper screening for guardians, with criminal convicts or people with significant financial issues appointed. The court did not oversee the guardians, and there was no proper communication regarding guardian abuse between the courts and federal agencies.
In 2016, the National Center for State Courts estimated that 1.3 million U.S. adults with assets of around $50 billion were under conservatorship. To avoid being put under conservatorship and potential abuse, it is important to have an estate plan in place before you become incapacitated.
An estate plan is a legal document that outlines your wishes for what should happen to your assets after you die. Estate planning is a way to ensure that your wishes are carried out after you are gone, regardless of whether you have a will or not. This can include everything from who should inherit your property to how you want your funeral handled.
More importantly, an estate plan can help protect you while you live if you become incapacitated and can no longer make decisions for yourself. There are three main documents that everyone should have in their estate plan: a will, a power of attorney, and a health directive. The last two are what you can benefit from while living.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney grants another person the authority to decide for you when you can no longer do so. This can be used for financial or medical decisions or both. It is crucial for you to be the one to appoint who will make decisions for you, as they will have a great deal of control over your life. If you do this while you are still of sound mind, there is less chance for abuse because you can choose someone you trust.
The power of attorney can be durable or non-durable. The non-durable power of attorney only applies when you are of sound mind and can be revoked at any time. The durable power of attorney means that the authority given to the person remains even if you become incapacitated. This is what you want because it ensures that someone you trust can make decisions for you based on your interests. If you have already appointed a durable power of attorney, the court will recognize this rather than appoint a conservator for you.
A health directive, also known as a living will, is a legal document that appoints someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. It also outlines your wishes for medical treatment if you are ever in a situation where you can no longer make decisions for yourself. This can include things like whether you want to be on life support or what kind of pain medication you want to receive.
Like a power of attorney, you should appoint someone you trust to make these decisions for you. This ensures that your wishes are carried out and that you receive the best possible care. It also prevents family members from having to argue about what you would have wanted.
Protect Yourself While You Can
Creating an estate plan is the best way to protect yourself from being put under conservatorship and potentially being abused. It gives you the ability to appoint someone you trust to make decisions on your behalf, and it ensures that your wishes are carried out. If you wait until you are incapacitated, it may be too late. Put an estate plan in place now so that you can rest assured knowing that you are taken care of the way you want to.