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What If?

People & Questions

Part of an estate planning attorney’s job is to play devil’s advocate and ask the question “what if?”

  • What if you can’t sign your own name?
  • What if your mental capacity is diminished and you need a guardian?
  • What if you can’t make your own medical decisions?

Let me tell you a story. Last Thanksgiving week, I had a very upsetting phone conversation with a worried daughter. The daughter lived in another state but was here in DFW for a week to see her dad. Unfortunately, Dad was in hospice in the final stages of a terminal illness. He was expected to pass away soon, so she was calling to try to get help accessing his bank accounts to pay for final expenses. She’d been to the bank and told them that she was his only daughter, but they wouldn’t even tell her how much money was in his accounts.

I asked her if she had power of attorney, but she said that he didn’t have any power of attorney documents. She was also concerned that he wasn’t receiving the type of care that he would want. I asked her if she had medical power of attorney documents or a medical directive from him, but she said that he didn’t have those either.

So, I told her that I could create those documents for him if he could sign them. She told me that the illness and the medication caused him to, essentially, be in a coma that he wasn’t expected to wake up from.

I told her that it was possible to get a temporary, emergency guardianship so that she could take care of some things with court approval, but it would likely take a few weeks and she would likely have to stay in Texas to appear before the court. It was then she told me that she couldn’t stay in Texas and had to get back home.

This is the point where I had to finally say, “I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

For me, the best part about being an attorney is when I can help people take care of something that they were unable to take care of themselves. Having to tell her that I couldn’t help absolutely broke my heart.

Not only did I have to tell her that there was nothing I could do while he was still alive, I also had to break some bad news to her about taking care of his affairs after he passed away. Because he did not have a will or trust, court proceedings to put her in charge of his affairs would take at least nine months if everyone else in the family agreed and there were no other complications or surprises. I had to tell her that she would have to pay for his final expenses and an attorney out of her own pocket and then, hopefully, get reimbursed for it later.

Please, don’t let this happen to your friends and loved ones. Please, share this email with your friends and family who might not know how important power of attorney documents are! A Durable Statutory Power of Attorney, a Combination Medical Directive/Medical Power of Attorney and HIPPA Release, and a Declaration of Guardian in Advance will allow you to help a friend or family member who is in a crisis situation. Schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our attorneys today so that your loved ones can take care of you if the time comes that you can’t take care of yourself.

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