What Can Happen When We Don’t Plan

I spent most of the past week with clients I would rather not see. Not because I don’t want to help them, or becausse I don’t like spendng time with them, but because the situations that brought them to me could so easily have been avoided.

One lovely lady with moderate dementia is the proud parent of 3 daugthers, 5 grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren. She knows that she can no longer live alone or manage her financial affairs. She has chosen the daughter with whom she would like to stay, and has been welcomed with open arms and responsible care. Unfortunately, her other daughters would like to have her stay with her, and have brought this matter to the courts, petitioning to serve as their mother’s guardian. Depositions have been taken and lawyers have spent countless hours arguing about issues, all of which could have been avoided if Mom had identified whom she wanted to serve as her medical and financial power of attorney. Instead, while Mom can clearly state her desires, and has never wavered in the 8 months that I have known her (the same length of time that this legal battle has gone on), her family is in court arguing about her competence to make that choice, because she didn’t document it before her faculties began to decline.

Another family came to see me last Friday afternoon, having been referred by their hospice social worker. The gentleman’s sister, who is in her 70s, is dying and nothing was in place to enable him – her only living relative – to manage her affairs. About a month ago, when the sister was still competent, she did add her brother to her bank account, so at least he can access funds to pay her bills and keep her household going. But he is unable to do anything as simple as change the billing address for his sister’s electric bill or redirect her mail, and he will not be able to do so until his sister dies and he can be appointed Personal Representative of her (intestate) esate. Meanwhile, it appears that after his sister’s husband died a few months ago, she was preyed upon by “friends” who “helped her” invest in some questionable transactions and give away valuable antiques and family heirlooms. When the time comes to open the probate, we can only hope that one of these friends doesn’t produce some sort of document that names them as heirs or personal representatives. All we do know is that the sister never prepared powers of attorney, and is not aware of having written a Will.

I have written many times about the importance of preparing Powers of Attorney, Advance Directives and Planning documents. There are forms available on line or at the office supply store, and Arizona allows a fully holographic (handwritten) will. If it is not important to you to make sure that your specific wishes are followed, please think about the gift that you would be giving to your family by helping them avoid the stress of not knowing or, worst of all, the heartache of airing family matters in a court of law.

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