Thinking about your own possible incapacity –such as if you suffer from a stroke or Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of cognitive impairment–is not pleasant, but if you don’t make a plan for that possibility, your assets may be squandered, your family may have to petition a court to appoint a guardian, and someone not of your own choosing may wind up with total control over your life. A thoughtful plan can help prevent such occurrences.
For complete incapacity protection, you might want to develop a strategy that uses each of these tools.
* Joint ownership generally works well for married couples with relatively simple, small estates. Single people (including those who are widowed or divorced) with only one heir also may find joint ownership to be viable.
* Otherwise, you should limit joint ownership to checking accounts where the balance is modest and perhaps to investment accounts that must be actively managed.
* Powers of attorney are useful for most people. Springing powers generally should be used unless you have some reason to have a power of attorney in force even while you are capable of handling your affairs.
* In reality, you probably won’t place all of your assets into a revocable trust or joint accounts. Thus, a power of attorney can be applied to other assets.
* Revocable trusts may not be necessary for married couples, assuming both spouses are capable of managing money and most assets are held jointly.
However, if you are single you probably should hold assets in a revocable trust. The costs are modest and the potential benefits can be enormous.
Other instruments to include in your incapacity plan:
* A health care power of attorney will enable a person you name to make medical decisions, if you can’t. This power might help to prevent life-prolonging medical procedures when there’s no chance of recovery.
* A living will won’t replace a traditional will but it can state the circumstances in which you want doctors to withhold or withdraw life support systems. Again, such a document can spare you and your family needless suffering and expense.
If you have a large estate you may need other types of trusts or other forms of advanced estate planning. Consult with an estate planning attorney who comes recommended by friends or trusted advisors.