Can You Answer These Four Legal Questions?
Let’s face it…two years of living with the COVID-19 pandemic have left many of us confused and frustrated. But it’s also made a couple of things crystal clear:
- Serious, life-changing, and potentially fatal health issues can occur at any time and without warning
- You need to have a plan in place before they happen
Specifically, there are four big questions that may have given you a few (dozen) sleepless nights over the past couple of years:
- If I’m incapacitated, who will make medical decisions for me?
- Who will be responsible for paying my bills and debts if I’m incapacitated or I die?
- What happens to my dependent children if I pass away or become incapacitated?
- If I have elderly parents who need assisted living help, how do I make sure they are taken care of if I’m not there?
No one likes to think about what would happen if you…or a loved one…are incapacitated or dead. But the consequences of inaction can turn a tragic situation into a legal nightmare.
So, lets’ look at what can happen if you are dead, incapacitated, or just in a situation where you can’t act for yourself.
Who Will Make Medical Decisions for Me?
Imagine you’re involved in a horrific auto accident. You’re unconscious…maybe on life-support…and can’t respond to the doctors to consent to treatment.
If you’re married, you might think “well, can’t my spouse make those decisions for me?”
That’s entirely dependent on the hospital. If you haven’t given your spouse…or someone else…the legal right to make medical decisions on your behalf, hospitals can refuse to treat you unless the courts award that power to someone.
Even if you were brain dead, the hospital could have to wait on the courts for days or weeks (or even longer) for authorization to disconnect your life support. Meanwhile, your medical bills would mount up…and your family would be legally responsible to pay them.
Who Will Pay My Bills?
Your bills arrive every month. If, for any reason, they don’t get paid on time then they just keep adding up.
Obviously, if you die you wouldn’t be able to pay your bills anymore. But the same thing would happen if you were incapacitated by an accident or illness…or not mentally competent enough to make sure they got paid.
It could even happen if you were stuck outside the country and couldn’t access your accounts.
If you don’t legally authorize someone to act in your name, your bills would keep building up until the courts name someone. This could take weeks or months.
Meanwhile your family’s credit rating could be affected because your debts become theirs.
What Will Happen to My Dependent Children?
True story…a couple and their two children from Texas were involved in a horrible auto accident in Colorado. Both parents were killed but the two children survived.
The parents hadn’t designated anyone to be guardians of their children (because no one thinks this will happen).
The result? The children became “wards” of the state of Colorado. Their relatives had to spend time and money to get the Colorado courts to give them custody.
If you haven’t legally designated someone to be responsible for your minor children “in case something happens”…the courts will make that choice for you.
What Happens to My Parents if They Depend on Me for Assistance?
People live longer these days. It’s not unusual to be a caregiver for your aging parents or be legally responsible for their finances.
So, what happens if the worst happens…to you?
Like the previous three situations, the courts will step in if you haven’t specified who should be responsible for them if you’re out of the picture. Any decisions the court makes may not consider your wishes…or your parents’ wishes.
What You Need to Do
First…forget about “it won’t happen to me”. At least one of these situations probably will happen to you or a loved one. And failure to plan means you’re planning to fail.
Next…you need to talk to an attorney with experience in wills and estate planning. They can help you prepare the necessary legal documents including:
- Estate Plan
- Power of Attorney
- Guardianship (for minor children)
- Medical Power of Attorney (and medical directives)
Then, if “the worst” happens to you, your wishes will be respected. And your loved ones will be protected…even though you’re no longer here.
Want to learn more about how to prepare for “when the worst happens?” I can help.