I had a potential client call me earlier in the week asking me if he needed a will. The caller wasn’t married and had no children or grandchildren. He didn’t own any real property. All of his bank accounts had payable on death beneficiaries and he owned minimal personal property. He had the perfect plan; nothing was going to pass through probate so he didn’t think he needed a will.
Maybe he doesn’t need a will. I didn’t know exactly since self-help estate planning frequently leads to mistakes or property that doesn’t have the proper designations. In this situation a will is prophylactic. It ensures that if a mistake is made or a beneficiary designation fails, that property passes to the intended recipient.
I turned the discussion from planning for death to what type of planning he had for his life. I asked if he had a power of attorney for finances. His answer was no. “Do you have an advanced health care directive (aka health care power of attorney)?” “No.”
The lack of such planning concerned me since I knew he didn’t have a significant other or children to care for him if he were unable to care for himself. What would happen to him if he had a stroke or suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s? Perhaps his siblings would step in to care for him – but how? They would have to spend his money to set up a conservatorship and guardianship or other court proceedings. These processes take time and money to set up and are expensive to administer.
To help deal with his finances he could execute a springing power of attorney for finances that would give a sibling or trusted relative the ability to manage his finances if he became incapacitated and unable to do so. It’s called a springing power of attorney because it only becomes effective upon incapacity. The power of attorney can provide broad powers and sets forth detailed instructions concerning what the designated agent can and cannot do on the individual’s behalf. More importantly, it would allow the caller to designate who he wanted to manage his finances – not a judge. Drafting and executing a power of attorney in this situation is relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of setting up and maintaining a conservatorship.
In Oregon, an advance health care directive would assist the caller by designating a health care agent to make health care decisions on his behalf when he’s unable to. It would potentially eliminate the need for guardianship proceedings. The representative can make decisions based on directions that are left in the directive. Among the decisions the representative can make is whether to withhold or remove life support, food or hydration. The advance heath care directive does not authorize euthanasia, assisted suicide or any overt action to end the person’s life.
This example is a part of the problem with self-help planning. Although the caller was very thorough with his death planning he didn’t give any thought to his life. In this caller’s case, life planning was much more important than death planning, but he hadn’t given it any thought.