Accidents do Happen: Be Prepared with a Power of Attorney
While practicing law back in 2010, I received a panicked call from a client. His daughter had been riding in the back of a taxi when the cab was struck from the side. His daughter had not been wearing a seat belt. She was paralyzed from the accident and suffered severe brain damage. Her life would never be the same.
Distraught and overwhelmed, my client needed to know what to do. How was he going to pay her bills? How would he consent to her medical treatments? How would he apply for disability benefits on her behalf? Since she had not been married, had little money and no children, estate planning had never come up and she had no legal documents in place to allow her father the authority he desperately needed.
Without a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Surrogate, her father was powerless. The only way for him to obtain the authority he needed was to pursue a guardianship in court. With every moment counting due to the severity of his daughter’s condition, he was forced to go through a lengthy and tiresome court process to obtain legal authority. Once he became her guardian, he had to report to the court with an accounting of every dollar he spent and attend a hearing for court permission to take measures on her behalf. Had she simply signed two simple documents prior to her accident, this all could have all been avoided.
While many people believe that you need a large estate to worry about estate planning, nothing could be farther from the truth. Estate planning is for everyone, young and old. At a minimum, anyone over age 18 should have a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Surrogate to avoid circumstances like these.
Under a Power of Attorney, the agent that is named can pay bills, sign contracts, sell assets, apply for benefits, communicate with financial institutions, and handle personal affairs without having to report their actions to a judge. Similarly, a Health Care Surrogate can communicate with doctors, review medical records, consent to procedures and treatments and make medical decisions on your behalf.
Being prepared for your family in the case of any type of accident is crucial. The start of a new year is always a good time to reflect and evaluate what priorities to attend to. Consider whether estate planning should be yours.
Thank you to our Sponsor of the Month, Bank of Tampa, for providing this article.