There are three key estate documents that everyone should have:
- Health Proxy
- Power of Attorney
If you have dependents, such as a spouse or children, the statement above graduates from “should have” to “need to have in place.” The power of attorney document allows someone that you designate to act on your behalf if you are rendered incapacitated such as a car accident, illness, or as you become become more frail later in life.
What happens if I’m in a car accident?
If I have a wife and kids and one day I end up in a car accident and end up in a coma, without a power of attorney in place, not even my wife would be able to access accounts that are solely in my name such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, or creditors. It could put my family in a very difficult situation if my wife is unable to access certain accounts to pay bills or withdraw money to pay for my medical bills while I am recovering. If I establish a Power of Attorney with my wife listed as the POA (Power of Attorney), if I become incapacitated, she can use that document to access all of my accounts as if she were me.
Protecting Against Long Term Care Event
While this a valid example, the Power of Attorney document is more frequently used when elderly individuals experience a long term care event and they are no longer able to manage their finances. The POA gives the designated person the power to make gifts, setup trusts, or implement other wealth preservation strategies to prevent the total depletion of your assets due to the expenses associated with the long term care event.
What happens if you don’t have a power of attorney?
From working with individuals that have been in these situations, it’s ugly. Very ugly. Instead of a trusted person being able to step in and act on your behalf, without a POA your family or friends would need to initiate a guardianship proceeding, wherein the individual is declared incapacitated and a guardian is appointed by the court to manage their financial affairs. The largest drawback of a guardianship proceeding is time and money. It can often times cost more that $15,000 to complete a guardianship processing when taking into account court fees, attorney fees, court evaluations, and bonding fees. In addition and arguably more importantly, you have no control over who the court will decide to appoint as your guardian and that individual will have full control over your finances. You know your family and friends best. Ask yourself this, wouldn’t you prefer to appoint the individual that you trust to carry out your wishes? If the answer is “yes”, then you should strongly consider putting a power of attorney in place.
Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.