Be Prepared For All Eventualities
Documents that you really need
Those of us employed directly at S.A.F.E. Planning Inc. are not attorneys. We do not practice law or give legal advice. However, in the highly specialized area of estate planning in which we focus, it is necessary that we know about issues involving powers of attorneys, wills, trusts, etc. in the area of Medicaid planning.
I have taught “continuing education” courses for attorneys, CPAs, trust officers, nursing home administrators, social workers, hospital case managers and discharge planners. The point here is not to boast but to establish that while we are not attorneys, we are very knowledgeable about the legal as well as financial aspects involved. Our first concern is an alarming number of people who have not executed or prepared legal documents. One report indicated that 70 percent of the population did not have so much as a simple will. Do you think that is because 70 percent of the population does not think they will die or do they just think it won’t be anytime soon?
We see the same procrastination where powers of attorney are concerned, but when dealing with financial and health-care issues, it is vitally important that one has all the necessary documents in place. The two documents that we most strongly suggest that clients have based on our area of planning are the Financial Powers of Attorney and the Healthcare Powers of Attorney or, as they are called in Florida, Healthcare Surrogates. Many do not realize that without a properly worded power of attorney, bank accounts could be frozen due to an injury or an illness that leaves one incapacitated.
Often I hear someone say, “Well, I am named as executor or executrix in their will,” thinking that this gives them the authority to act for their loved one, such as a mom or dad. People making this statement most often do not understand that a will only becomes effective after death. So, the fact that one is named as an executor in the will has no bearing on handling their affairs while they are living. A power of attorney is for conducting affairs while one is alive, and a power of attorney automatically becomes null and void at death.
Having established how important it is that these documents be legally correct, another high priority is to have them readily available. I’ve been amazed at the number of people I meet who have left their documents at home in another state and do not have ready access to them. They’ll say, “I have a power of attorney, but it’s in my safety deposit box back in XYZ state.” Most people would never consider leaving home without a driver’s license, passport, cash and credit cards in case of an unexpected need or emergency. It’s puzzling then that so many people routinely travel for an extended period without the essential legal documents that could literally save their life or the life of a loved one.
I have doctor friends who tell me that people have actually died in emergency rooms and in hospitals because no one has the legal documents or authority to give permission to perform certain lifesaving procedures. Many doctors are understandably reluctant to do certain things without the proper legal authority for fear of being sued if things were to go bad. Even for those who have had powers of attorney drafted, some are off Legal Zoom.com that do not have the language that would be needed so we would be able to qualify them for nursing home payments or other programs, such as VA Aid and Attendance.
There is very explicit, particular language that needs to be in these powers of attorney. We make sure that our clients benefit from our knowledge and experience in these specialized areas of planning by providing the “special language” in their paperwork. People who want protection should always consult with a firm or professional who has proven knowledge, experience and success in this area of planning, or in the area of planning in which you are concerned.
Once an individual has the proper documentation, they should keep it with them wherever they live or travel. Remember: Power of attorney will do you no good if it is in a safety deposit box “back home” where you or your designated family member can’t get their hands on it. There are various ways in which we advise our clients they can have them readily available, including electronic means. Everybody needs to know these options, so you are prepared in case of an unexpected emergency.
Steve Rainey is CEO of SAFE Planning Inc.