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Protecting your money | November 10, 2013

Prepare … for when you can't

Experts encourage everyone to provide financial and medical powers of attorney to someone he or she can trust.

Jessica Hall

| Staff Writer
jhall@pressherald.com


T

here are three crucial documents every adult should have – a will and distinct power of attorney directives that outline who would handle both the financial and the medical issues if a person becomes incapacitated.

“Planning for your incapacity and death is a responsibility and a right,” said Barbara Schlichtman, an attorney with Maine Center for Elder Law in Kennebunk. “Barring death, sometimes the biggest issue is a health incident when you don’t die. Think about a 40-year-old who has a stroke.”

A durable power of attorney for health care identifies someone to make medical treatment decisions and end-of-life decisions on someone’s behalf in the event they are incapacitated. Every adult, regardless of age, should appoint a trusted person as their agent.

vogel

Timothy Vogel

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

(The Maine Health Care Decisions Act authorized the creation of durable power of attorney for health care and replaced Maine’s living will law.)

Meanwhile, a durable financial power of attorney appoints someone trusted to make financial and investment decisions, and handle financial obligations in the event a person is incapacitated. The chosen agent is liable for all of their actions and the disbursement of your funds.

It is important to formally designate these people before an accident or incapacitating illness, so there is no question who would handle financial affairs or medical questions.

“Power of attorney decisions can be much more important than a will. People don’t plan for incapacity, but they should prepare for every possibility,” said Timothy Vogel, an attorney with Vogel & Dubois in Portland, which specializes in elder law. “It’s human nature not to plan. But do some planning and talk to people and make some decisions before it’s too late.”

Schlichtman

Barbara Schlichtman

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

The same person can have both your medical and financial power of attorney privileges. If different people are chosen, they should work together because often medical decisions needs to be made in conjunction with financial decisions, Vogel said.

“Everyone has the responsibility to look out for themselves and their loved one. If you become injured or incapacitated, you don’t want to leave a mess for your loved one,” Vogel said. “Our society respects individual economy. No one can make decisions for you better than yourself.”

Without power of attorney decisions being made before a person’s incapacitation, family members would have to go to a probate court to be able to make decisions on the person’s behalf. That can take time and money.

A guardian can be appointed to provide continuing care and supervision of incapacitated adults, while a conservator can be named to protect, preserve and manage estates. “Often, it’s the families who can least afford to pay legal and court fees who are in that category,” Schlichtman said.

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