Theft and exploitation of the elderly is so common as to be described as an epidemic. The purpose of this article is to explain how to protect yourself and your parents from thieves.
STEPS TO PROECT YOURSELF AND YOUR PARENTS FROM EXPLOITATION
1. The first step to protect yourself and others is to make plans before you need them. This sounds counterintuitive, right? Wrong.
If you need a life or estate plan now, then something has happened. Whatever the something – you are ill or injured, a family member is ill or injured, you suffered a financial setback, etc. – it now requires your attention and causes you stress. You can make better choices when you can take time, gather complete information, and calmly think about your options. If you already need life planning, by all means take action and get it done. If you don’t yet have a crisis or emergency, take action and complete your life planning now.
2. Gather complete information about life planning.
The standard durable power of attorney that I prepare includes twelve (12) “superpowers” that require the principal’s initials next to each power. These are broad powers that can scare people. Do you know how they might be used? Or, why they are important to accomplish specific tasks if you cannot manage your own affairs?
Do you know who is eligible to serve as the personal representative (“executor”) of your estate in Florida? Perhaps more importantly, do you know who is not eligible?
Do you know who can be a witness to a power of attorney, will, or health care directive? Or, when must the witnesses be separate from the Notary and when can they be the same?
These are seemingly simple questions, but the answers determine whether your life plan documents are valid or invalid. Questions about how to draft life plan documents, why to choose various drafting options, and the consequences of these choices can be overwhelming.
A free Life Planning Guide that explains general principles about life planning documents is available for download.
Blackburn Law Firm, PLLC – LifePlanLaw.com offers complimentary consultations to discuss your specific circumstances and goals, and answer your questions. Request a consultation.
3. Prepare a comprehensive life plan in case you are incapacitated.
Almost everyone will require help with medical care and decisions, financial transactions, insurance issues, paying bills, and other tasks sometime in the future. Only a properly designated health care surrogate or power of attorney can provide that help. Because we cannot predict when (or if) a person will be incapacitated or require help with life tasks, it important to prepare a living will, health care surrogate designation, and power of attorney in advance.
4. Choose your agents thoughtfully.
In order to help you, a health care surrogate and power of attorney must have documents that give them the authority to do what must be done. These are spelled out explicitly in the Living Will, Health Care Surrogate Designation, and Power of Attorney.
The powers are, and should be, very broad. Limiting the agents’ powers will prevent them from helping. Therefore, it is very important to choose agents who are completely trustworthy and capable of making difficult decisions in times of emergency. Choose agents because of their abilities, not because a child or partner or sibling will be hurt if not chosen. These are important matters and not a popularity contest or test of your love.
5. Inform your agents about your plan.
People cannot help if they do not know your plan exists. You do not need to give copies of your life plan documents to your agents. In fact, I rarely recommend that you provide anything other than your Living Will and Health Care Surrogate Designation to your agents. They may need the health care directives in an emergency.
If you need help with financial or contract matters, there will be time to obtain your power of attorney or trust agreement from your home or lawyer. I recommend you tell your agents where your documents are located and give them the name, address, and telephone number of your attorney. In this way, they can locate the necessary documents if needed.
6. Stay in touch with your agents, your support system, and your lawyer. Review your plan periodically.
Thieves and people who exploit others count on isolating the victim for their success. Do not allow this. If a neighbor, care giver, “friend,” or someone else begins to criticize your agents, family, doctor, lawyer, etc., wants you to cut off contact with these trusted advisors, and/or insists that they better serve your interests than your trusted advisors, this is a red flag that they are out to steal your assets. Stay in touch with your trusted advisors. If someone tries to stop you, cut off contact with that person.
Circumstances and the law change over time. For example, legal forms have changed in the past 5 and 10 years. Tax laws have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. People move, become ill, and change their interests. It is a good idea to review your life planning documents at least every five (5) years to see if they still meet your needs and goals. If you do not understand your life plan documents sufficiently to know if they still meet your needs and goals, consult with an attorney. Catherine Blackburn offers complimentary consultations to review existing life plan documents.