It’s Spring. New Year’s resolutions are a fading memory for some of us, but the budding trees bring out the instinct to start spring cleaning and putting things in order. It’s the time of year when we focus on the things we put off because they are difficult or unpleasant. Thinking about what would happen if you can’t take of yourself is one of those things.
Many of my clients have told me that they know they need a living trust to stay out of probate when they die. What most people don’t know is that there can be probate when you are alive, too. If you become incapacitated due to age, illness, or accident, planning would be the difference between your loved ones taking care of you informally, or having to go to probate court. For example, I’ve seen people who have been unable to refinance their homes without court approval because a spouse can’t sign loan papers.
Health laws protect our privacy, but they also make it more difficult for your loved ones to talk to your doctor. Medical personnel can insist that you go to probate court before any information is released. Parents of college students have found out that while they are legally responsible for the bills, they have no right to information or to make decisions.
This means that every person over the age of 18 should have a durable Power of Attorney for financial matters and an Advance Health Care Directive. Planning for incapacity may be something you want to put off, but doing it protects you and your loved ones. So, as you are doing your spring cleaning, make a resolution to make things easier for someone to care for you if you can’t take care of yourself.