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“When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid
Oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me.”

— Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me“

The possibility that we might one day become unable to care for ourselves due to incapacity isn’t something we usually talk about or even want to think about. But as we are living longer and longer lives, it is becoming increasingly more likely that we might reach an age or circumstance where we will need someone to care for us and look after our affairs. In fact, most of us know someone who has suddenly and unexpectedly become incapacitated, whether by illness, accident, or just old age.

What happens to us if we ever become incapable of taking care of ourselves? Are we prepared?

Who will take care of our affairs when we can’t do it for ourselves? Who will pay the bills to keep the lights on? Who will pursue our rights and claims on our behalf? Who will take care of us, and how?

The good news is that with a little bit of advanced planning we can have a legal plan in place that looks after our own interests, and perhaps the interests of our loved ones. We can choose who will care for us and our estate if we ever become unable to do so for ourselves.

There are a few ways we can do this. Here are just a couple:

Springing Power of Attorney

First, an attorney can draft a “springing” power of attorney. This type of document gives another person (or a group of persons), chosen by you, the legal right and authority to act on your behalf. This means that if you ever become unable to handle your own affairs, someone you trust can suddenly receive the legal authority to stand for you and handle your affairs on your behalf, in your own interest. The power can be “durable,” which means that it can provide the authority even if you are no longer incapacitated, or it can extinguish once your condition improves.

Depending on how you wanted it, the power could be specific and limited to special circumstances and tasks, or it could be general and broad. You could authorize your agent to simply pay your bills, which in most cases is safer than adding someone else’s name to your bank account. Or if you wanted your agent to have more power than that, you could empower your agent to handle nearly all of your affairs. Under no condition would your agent be allowed to take anything of yours as a “gift” without your specific written authorization.

It’s important to understand that a Power of Attorney extinguishes upon your death, so your agent wouldn’t have the authority to act on your behalf the second after you passed away. For that sort of authority, you would need a living trust in place.

It is very important that you understand all of the terms and authorities granted before you sign a Power of Attorney. It is crucial that you choose someone responsible and trustworthy to be your agent. In the worst cases, some people have lost all of their assets to dishonest agents– so choose wisely!

Advanced Healthcare Directive

If you don’t make proper arrangements for your healthcare decisions in advance, and you should ever become unable to make sound decisions or care for yourself, a court could appoint a conservator to take care of you. Conservators are expensive, time-consuming, and they usually don’t know your preferences and healthcare wishes.

An advanced healthcare directive (also known as a Power of Attorney for Healthcare) allows you to designate a person, or a group of people, to make health care decisions on your behalf should you ever become unable to care for yourself. Within this document, you could express your specific wishes and desires concerning; among other things, life-sustaining treatments, organ donation, disposition of remains, funeral services, and religious (spiritual) preferences.

Wouldn’t you rather empower someone you trust, and provide them with the instructions on how you wish to be treated, should the moment ever arise?

What’s next?

There are other documents that could also be useful. Speaking with a skilled estate planning attorney is usually the first step in figuring out what you need to do. Please feel free to contact Bobby Kouretchian at KO/ZA LAW GROUP LLP for a no-cost initial consultation and review, to discuss what’s best for you and your loved ones.


Stand By Me– Copyright: Sony/ATV Songs LLC, Parade Music Co. Writer(s): Tammy Wynette, Ben King, Billy N. Sherrill, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller

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