Have you drafted proper estate planning documents, including a Durable Power of Attorney or a Revocable Trust?
Odds are that at least half of the people reading this have not.
So unless you want your personal finances to become a Halloween horror story, take a moment to read today’s scary Wall Street Journal article (“Abuse Plagues System of Legal Guardians for Adults“) on what could be in store for you.
So here’s the facts. Without a properly drafted Durable Power of Attorney and/or Revocable Trust, naming someone else to step in and handle your financial affairs if you’re physically or mentally incapacitated, you could easily end up with a court-appointed guardian.
With a guardianship, every financial move you make, every bill that’s paid, every dollar you spend, needs to be done so under the supervision of the Court, assisted by an appointed guardian and attorney (both of which you pay, of course). It’s expensive, it’s intrusive, and worst of all, it’s totally unnecessary, provided you plan for yourself before the Court is forced to do so for you.
And to set the record straight, while the article focuses on a few “bad apple” guardians out there, most are extremely competent, dedicated, and ethical, and take very seriously their job of making decisions for you when you’re not able to do so.
In my career, I’ve worked closely with many guardians and their attorneys, and have actually served as guardian on behalf of a large bank. And as the attorney in the article aptly notes, the worst abuses often occur in cases where there is no guardian to protect vulnerable seniors.
“Sadly, the most common occurrence of financial exploitation and abuse in a guardianship occurs with family members as guardians, but those often never garner the attention of the media,” reports Knyvett Lee, founder of MonarchCare, a guardianship and care management non-profit in South Florida. Lee has been a professional guardian since 1989.
“I am proud to say that our state has some of the strongest and most refined guardianship laws in the country, but there is always room for improvement and of course funding for the judicial oversight is desperately needed,” she says.
But even if you are so fortunate as to work with the best guardian out there, wouldn’t you rather handle your finances in private with someone you personally know and trust, rather than in a public venue with a stranger assigned to you by the Court?
How to keep the scary monsters at bay
If you’ve been procrastinating, come Monday morning, call your attorney (or ask your financial advisor for referrals to an experienced estate planning attorney) and get that Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) or Trust drafted once and for all.
If you drafted a DPOA so many years ago you can scarcely remember, haul it out, blow off the dust, and make sure that person you named is still competent, and ready, willing and able to serve.
“In my experience, the most common reasons for guardianship are because the individual never planned for potential incapacity, outlived his or her relatives or there was a rift in the family relationship,” reports Lee.
You’ll find that taking care of your own legal affairs is the best way to keep thrills, chills and blood-suckers in the Halloween scary movies, and out of your personal financial life.