Advanced Directives: A Cautionary Tale

Estate planning documents, also commonly referred to as Advanced Directives, are vital to the safety and protection of your assets and personal well-being. As such, those instruments, especially Last Wills & Testaments, Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney, should be updated regularly, as families and personal situations change. We typically recommend revisions to your Advanced Directives after significant life events; such as marriage or divorce, the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren, the unfortunate death of a loved one of if your investments have grown or changed.

The dangers of inadequate planning were highlighted in a practical way for us when we were recently approached by a client whose mother has suffered a stroke. The client's mother was left physically and mentally debilitated. She was unable to write checks and pay bills from her account. The client had contact the bank and explained her unfortunate situation. The bank, though sympathetic, advised that they were powerless to authorize her to access her mother's account without a duly executed Power of Attorney. However, due to her mother's physical and mental condition, she no longer possessed the required legal capacity to enter such documents. As a result, the mother, stricken with a variety of ailments, was without the ability to provide for her needs or appoint someone to assist her at a time when she needed it most. The client's only option was to seek guardianship, a drastic and costly endeavor, in order to properly address her mother's needs. 

Unfortunately, the foregoing case is not an isolated one. Such instances occur more frequently than is commonly thought. However, the reality is that such unhappy scenarios can be easily avoided with modest foresight and resources. A properly prepared estate plan protects you at all stages of life and provides security for you and your family in uncertain times.