In many ways, planning for incapacity can be even more challenging than planning for end of life. More so than contemplating death, it is difficult to think about a time when we are alive but unable to communicate our thoughts and wishes to our loved ones. Unfortunately many people will become incapacitated before they pass away and unless proper life and estate plans are in place, decisions about their health and finances will be left in limbo.
Incapacity can mean that an individual does not have the ability to make decisions about his or her own health care or affairs (personal or financial) and can come as the result of mental or physical illness or injury. For example, incapacity can be caused by stroke, brain injury or by degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
When planning for incapacity, the most important documents you will need are an advance health care directive, a living trust and a durable power of attorney. While your will provides for the distribution of your assets and property after death, these other documents enable you to give clear directions about your wishes should you become unable to communicate them. The decisions you include in these documents should be made after careful consideration. Give yourself the opportunity to think about and carefully select someone you trust to make difficult decisions on your behalf and discuss these issues with them.
Your advance health care directive allows you to appoint an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf. Also known as a living will, the directive can outline how you want to be treated under certain conditions and can define whether your agent can consent or refuse medical treatment or care. Your advance health care directive also specifies clear instructions about resuscitation, providing artificial hydration or nutrition and organ or tissue donation.
Your revocable living trust allows you to transfer your assets to a trust for your own benefit. This allows you to use your assets as you wish or designate them during your lifetime. A living trust can also provide for an alternate trustee in the event that you become incapacitated.
Your durable power of attorney can be used to provide a broad level of power to another person, allowing them to make decisions on your behalf or it can be tailored to give them decision-making power about specific issues. A durable power of attorney is often used to delegate financial decisions, like paying bills, to another person. The agent designated as your power of attorney could be a family member, an attorney or another adult you trust to handle your money.
Each of the aforementioned estate planning documents have certain benefits and drawbacks. Speaking with an experienced Pittsburgh estate planning attorney will help you to better understand the limitations of these tools before committing to any decisions.
We are here to help. If you have questions about planning for incapacity, our experienced attorneys at Fingeret Law can help to ensure your estate plan will protect your best interests. Contact us today to learn more.