Respect (and protect) Your Elders

From a young age we are taught to respect our elders. This is for a good reason: With age also comes wisdom. . . Usually.

Unfortunately wisdom is not the only thing that comes with age. There’s the other run-of-the-mill stuff of course: grey hair, wrinkles, less spring in your step, maybe the memory’s a little rusty. Sometimes there’s more: physical disability, serious mental deterioration, an illness that can lead to total incapacitation.

What if you were suddenly in that position, and unable to care for yourself or to properly manage your money?

Hopefully you had the forethought to do some planning. Several legal tools exist to ensure your financial affairs will be managed if you are unable to do so yourself. You can set up a living trust, for example, which allows someone else to manage your finances upon incapacitation. A power of attorney can also be a very helpful tool, allowing another person to make financial decisions for you as your appointed agent or “attorney-in-fact.”

You can also ensure that appropriate healthcare decisions will be made for you if you are unable to make them yourself. One common device is the advance directive, which authorizes a trusted friend or family member to make health care decisions on your behalf.

These legal tools are part of most estate plans I put together for clients in my practice.

What if, however, you never got around to seeing a lawyer and creating an estate plan, and you suddenly became incapacitated?

Fortunately there are legal tools to ensure the protection of your welfare in that case too. A loving friend or relative can petition the court to become your guardian, allowing him to take custody of and care for you and your possessions. Your guardian would also be able to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if appropriate. A person can also petition the court to become your conservator, allowing her to manage and control your finances.

Generally referred to as “protective proceedings,” guardianships and conservatorships are effective tools to protect elders (as well as kids and young adults). Keep in mind, however, that unlike estate planning, these proceedings can be very costly and cumbersome, and require the court’s involvement in your private life.

Whether through forward-thinking estate planning or after-the-fact protective proceedings, the law offers many ways to ensure that vulnerable elders are both respected and protected. Our law office can help you and your loved ones in either scenario.

Robert (Bob) Good has practiced law in Jackson County for over twenty years, specializing in family law, estate planning and business law. Contact him at his Ashland office at (541) 482-3763.