By Darlynn Morgan, Orange County Wills and Estates Lawyer

When most people think about estate planning, they envision meeting with an Orange County wills and estates lawyer to plan for their death.  However, a good, comprehensive estate plan covers so much more than just planning for death, as it should also include provisions to protect your family, assets and wishes in the event of short or long-term incapacity.

Incapacity can be a result of an accident where you are no longer able to care for yourself or it can be the result of the natural aging process. Diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s can come on quickly and often rob senior citizens of their ability to make decisions and care for themselves. And sadly, at that point, someone is forced into the position of taking over for the ill person, which is much more difficult if the person has passed the point where they can no longer manage their affairs.

In situations where a person has not put a plan for incapacity in place, it may be necessary to petition the court for guardianship and conservatorship of their estate.  However, conservatorship and guardianship are only granted by the court when there are no less restrictive alternatives available and is really only considered a last resort.  Plus, the burden of ‘proving’ incapacity often falls on the already over-burdened, over-worked, stressed-out and emotionally-drained caregiver, thus making it a painful road for all parties to travel.

My heart sinks when I get a call from someone who says that their mother or father is at the point where they need someone to take over their affairs.  I’m further surprised by the number of people who only realize this after their loved one has been taken for lots of money by scammers who prey on vulnerable people. 

Recently a client of mine and told me that her mother had been handling her own affairs – long passed when she should have.  It seems that her mother had accidently written a check to the gardener for $800 instead of $80!  Needless to say, by the time it was discovered, it was too late.  The money was never returned from the gardener.

At any rate, once incapacity is discovered, it’s now up to the caregiver to gain access to their loved one’s bank accounts, investment accounts, and other sources of income—in addition to figuring out how to take care of them on a daily basis.  Decisions like having the person live in a nursing home or whether to hire in-home care service is also incredibly difficult emotionally; especially if you’ve never discussed this with your loved and you have no idea what they would have chosen for themselves.

Yet as an Orange County wills and estates lawyer, I want you know that these situations are entirely avoidable.  With a bit of advanced planning, you CAN put a hedge of protection around your assets and your loved ones so you aren’t taken by surprise if incapacity suddenly occurs.   Simply mention this article and schedule your own Family Wealth Planning Session (normally $750) and I will show you how.  I have room for 10 free consultations each month so call our office at (949) 260-1400 and make sure you get one of them.