As we age, it’s important to make sure that we have plans in place for how we will take care of ourselves—or how others will take care of us. It’s an unpleasant thought that, unfortunately, most folks avoid. While it’s normal not to want to consider what happens if you are incapacitated and can’t take care of yourself, you should plan for this possibility regardless. The discomfort of considering the possibility is better than the alternative: ending up in this situation with no plan in place and your family at a loss.
In one of my estate and Medicaid planning articles, I’ve discussed why it’s important to have financial and health care powers of attorney. These powers of attorney allow a designated person that you’ve chosen to make financial and health care decisions for you in the event that you can’t for yourself. If you become incapacitated and don’t have these powers of attorney set up, there is no guarantee that your financial and health care wishes will be followed. Your spouse or other family members are not legally allowed to act on your behalf in financial or health care matters. For someone who is incapacitated without these documents, the court appoints a Guardian, who could make decisions that you never would have approved.
While powers of attorney are important for everyone, they are perhaps even more important for people without children. Not every child is able to care for their parents in the same way, but folks with children usually have some measure of security that someone will be there to care for them later in life. Children are usually expected to, if not care for their parents, hire caregivers and check up on their parents. They also may have some idea of their parent’s wishes. For folks without children, there is no such security, according to a recent New York Times article.
The article reports that this is a concern for more and more Americans. According to 2010 census data, 19% of women between 40 and 44 had no children, up from about 10% 30 years ago.
If you don’t have children, who should be in charge of your health and finances in case you can’t manage them yourself?
You may consider your spouse or your siblings. However, if they are similar in age to you, consider appointing a backup that is younger, such as a niece or nephew—in case you outlive your spouse or siblings. Unmarried, only children could consider appointing close friends or members of your religious organization.
When choosing to appointment someone, make sure that they are a trusted person. Be wary of those who seem like they have ulterior motives or who would make decisions not in your best interest.
If you have any other questions about setting up powers of attorney, please call my office.