Mental Capacity

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What Does A Living Will Do For Me?

What Does A Living Will Do For Me?

WHAT DOES A LIVING WILL DO FOR ME?

           A living will is an important cornerstone document for any estate plan.   This document allows your to spell out your wishes with respect to medical care if you are not only unable to make your own decisions, but also terminally ill, in a coma or otherwise seriously incapacitated.

For all intents and purposes, in Missouri a living will is the same thing as a healthcare directive or an advanced directive.  Each provides your specific instructions with respect to care in the event of the above situations.

As a living will lawyer O’Fallon, I always make this document the part of any estate plan I create for a client.  People are often confused by the types of treatments covered, but they are generally:

  • artificially supplied nutrition / hydration
  • invasive surgery or other invasive procedure
  • chemotherapy
  • CPR
  • dialysis
  • antibiotics
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • respirator
  • All other “life-prolonging” medical or surgical procedures that are merely intended to keep you alive without reasonable hope of improving your condition or curing your illness or injury.

Here’s an example of how a living will works:

Joan is 65 and discovers she has Stage 3 cancer.  She aggressively fights the disease with chemotherapy and even some other innovative procedures.  However, after a year or so she is informed by her doctor that the cancer is now terminal and that she has less than six months to live.  Joan creates a healthcare power of attorney and living will that names one of her sons, Jack, to make healthcare decisions for her if she cannot.  A few months later she gets an infection, which requires hospitalization.  She requests antibiotics which do not successfully treat the infection.  After a few days she is not responsive and Jack begins make decisions for her.  He discusses options for his mother with her treating doctor who tells him that because she is otherwise terminally ill, the infection cannot be treated successfully and even if it were, he doesn’t think she would return with any quality of life.

Jack reviews the healthcare directive which clearly states from his mother that she didn’t want to be kept alive with no hope of recovery.  Based on those instructions from his mother, he elects to withdraw medical treatment and to make sure his mother is pain free and comfortable, which is known as palliative care.  A few days later, sadly, Joan passes away.

The lesson in the above example is that Joan was able to control her fate even after she could no longer state her wishes about treatment.  It certainly was a difficult decision for Jack, but he was able to recognize that it was his job to carry out his mother’s wishes, not prolong her life unnecessarily if it wasn’t going to help her condition.

Another important lesson:  Joan chose Jack to make this decision, not her other sons.  That’s because she created a power of attorney which stated that Jack and not the others were in charge if she was incapacitated.  Presumably Joan chose Jack for a reason…she knew he would do as she asked and not what he may have wanted.  Without a healthcare power of attorney and medical directive in place, it’s up to your next of kin to make decisions together.

Estate Planning Disasters: The Form Beneficiary Deed

Estate Planning Disasters: The Form Beneficiary Deed

ESTATE PLANNING DISASTERS:  THE FORM BENEFICIARY DEED

Whether people fail to create an estate plan or sometimes even when they do, there a host of reasons why the plan or lack thereof can be a disaster.  This article will provide an example of an actual estate planning disaster.  As a beneficiary deed lawyer St. Peters, Missouri, I have seen plenty of them.

STORY

Aunt has a piece of property in a historic part of St. Charles County.  She has no children and is a widow.  She does however have a grown niece and a grown nephew and she loves both of them.  Aunt and their mother were super close as sisters and Aunt especially doted on niece and nephew as they were growing up.

In 2002, Aunt finds a form beneficiary deed at an office supply store.  The form automatically includes the language per stirpes typed in after the people listed to inherit the property after her death.  She writes in that she wants her nephew and niece to inherit the property equally when she dies and, as listed on the deed already, per stirpes.  The deed is correctly recorded.

In 2012, niece passes away.  Aunt is now in her late 80’s and unable to create a new beneficiary deed because she is not competent.  In the intervening ten years, niece’s son, her only child has grown from a well adjusted ten year old to a 20 year old with an awful drug addiction and several arrests for theft and burglary.

Aunt passes away in 2015.  Nephew is referred to my office for help, since he lives on the West Coast.  He wants to know how to put the property just in his name since his sister passed away.  After review of the 2002 beneficiary deed, I have to tell nephew that he is only entitled to one-half of the property and, unfortunately, has to share the property with niece’s son (his nephew).  Nephew immediately tells me that his Aunt said many times that she only wanted niece or nephew to inherit the property because she knew they would take care of it.  However, her intent as indicated by nephew is not displayed on the form beneficiary deed.

Meanwhile, soon after Aunt’s death, niece’s son, has already broken into the house and taken almost everything of value, including rare jewelry and antiques.  He has also stripped all of the copper and apparently looking for hidden items, tore up the flooring throughout the first floor and the vents in the basement.

I was able to put the property in nephew and son of niece’s name, but I had to refer nephew to a civil litigation attorney to pursue damages against the son of niece.  Nephew received a judgment for thousands of dollars and eventually the share of the house belonging to niece’s son was used to collect on that judgment, but the actual damages to the house and the costs of filing suit severely reduced the value of the inheritance.

So how could all of this been avoided?

Hindsight is of course 20/20 but a consultation with an estate planning attorney would have allowed Aunt to be informed that her true intent, to give the property 50/50 to nephew and niece, per capita, would have resulted in the property passing only to nephew at Aunt’s death because niece had predeceased in 2012.

Bottomline:  Two Latin words, per stirpes, meant all the difference in this case. 

Five Power of Attorney Myths…

Five Power of Attorney Myths…

FIVE POWER OF ATTORNEY MYTHS

Powers of attorney are documents where a person names a person (their “attorney”) to make healthcare and financial decisions for them if they are incapacitated.  Such incapacity could be temporary or permanent.  Some powers of attorney are drafted so that a person gives another person power to do something because they cannot.  An example would be giving your adult child power of attorney to sign closing documents for the sale of your home because you live out of state.

Power of attorney lawyer O’Fallon, Missouri can help you draft these very important documents which are a cornerstone of any estate plan.

There are a few myths about these documents and here are five of them:

  1. Any Power of Attorney Form Will Work

The Web is an all too easy place to find a form for anything these days.  However, with a power of attorney, every state has different rules and statutes to make the document legally binding.  Forms online are often too general, do not contain details that are appropriate to your specific situation and are ambiguous.  An even bigger problem is that by the time you discover the form document you printed doesn’t work, it’s too late.  See below.

  1. You Can Sign a Power of Attorney At Any Time

Many people are unaware that you have to be mentally competent in order to create a power of attorney.  However, very often a person needs a power of attorney because they are no longer competent.

Unfortunately, if that person is incompetent, it’s too late anda court has to determine whether the person should have a guardian and/or conservator appointed.  It’s a much more dragged out process, it’s costly and can be challenged by others.

Bottomline, if someone you know is in need of a power of attorney, don’t wait.  Act quickly before they lose competence.

  1. A Durable Power of Attorney Is Still Valid After Death

A power of attorney allows a person to make decisions for another only as long as they are alive.  Once a person passes away powers of attorney are invalid.  At death, the operating documents are the person’s will and/or trust.

For a healthcare power of attorney O’Fallon, Missouri, the last thing the agent can do is arrange the cremation or burial wishes of the deceased.  This is called the Right of Sepulcher.

  1. A Power of Attorney Allows a Person to Do Whatever They Want

A person chosen to be a power of attorney has a fiduciary duty to the principal, the person who gave them authority.  That means they have to act in the principal’s best interests at all times, even if it’s not stated in the document, which it usually isn’t.

It’s important to note, however, that fiduciary duties are broken all the time.  Therefore, it’s important that a person choose a trustworthy individual to be there power of attorney.  It also helps to name someone who knows a bit about financial matters and you know will act and act properly.

  1. If You’re Married, Your Spouse Is Already Your Power of Attorney

When it comes to a power of attorney, being married doesn’t automatically make your spouse your agent.  That doesn’t mean they can’t be your power of attorney but they’ll need to be named so in the document, just like anyone else.  You’ll also need alternates in case you and your spouse are both incapacitated at the same time.

For healthcare decisions, if you don’t have a healthcare power of attorney, you spouse is considered your first next of kin and can make decisions above anyone else.  But the next of kin after your spouse may not be your choice, so it’s necessary to create a healthcare power of attorney.  In so doing, you’ll also create a much needed healthcare directive, sometimes referred to as a living will or advanced directive.  This document provides end of life instructions about medical treatment you either would or would not want to have withheld if a doctor determines it can’t heal you.

Missouri Healthcare Power Of Attorney

Missouri Healthcare Power Of Attorney

MISSOURI HEALTHCARE POWER OF ATTORNEY: A must-have estate planning document

This article focuses on the importance of having a Missouri healthcare power of attorney and what it does. A Missouri healthcare power of attorney is a document in which you name a power of attorney, called an “agent”, to make healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated and cannot make them yourself.

In Missouri, the document allows you to state whether you want one or two doctors to determine if you are incapacitated. The state standard is two doctors, but you can opt out and decide one.

Once you are incapacitated, your agent can not only meet with your doctors and review your medical records, but decide:

* what type of treatment
* which doctor / which hospital
* whether to put you into skill nursing or other long term care facilities such as assisted living
* whether to put you into hospice, either at home or at a facility
* whether to withhold artificially nutrition and hydration (tube feeding), if you specifically grant that power to your agent

So, in a nutshell, your Missouri healthcare power of attorney literally puts you life into the hands of another person. That should usually be your spouse or an adult child (or children together if you think they can make decisions together). But it’s important to point out that you can choose whoever you want to make these decisions and generally that should be a person nearby who’s judgment you trust and who you are sure will act if necessary.

In the document you can also decide whether you want to donate organs and provide specifics about your wishes as to when you pass away if you want to be buried or cremated and information about the type of funeral services you want. It also contains a HIPAA Waiver which will ensure that your agent can review your medical records as needed and discuss your care with your doctor(s).

You should also have the second part of a Missouri healthcare power of attorney, which is a Missouri healthcare directive (sometimes referred to as a Missouri living will), which at our office is a second part of the healthcare power of attorney document. The point of the healthcare directive is to provide detailed instructions to your agent if you are terminally ill or persistently unconscious (a coma, for example). You want to prevent your agent from having to guess how far to take medical treatment if you are not able to decide and that’s the point of this document. It’s invaluable to provide these instructions to your agent so they don’t have to guess, which puts both of you potentially in a tough spot.

A Missouri healthcare power of attorney document can be drafted by an experienced Missouri estate planning or elder law attorney.

WHAT IS A CONSERVATOR IN MISSOURI?

A conservator in Missouri is a person or corporation appointed by a court to manage the property and finances of a minor or elderly person who has been determined by the court to be legally disabled.

In Missouri, someone who is appointed guardian has a different role than a conservator, specifically that a guardian is appointed by the court to have care and custody of a minor or elderly person.

Parents are given priority to be named conservator over their minor children in Missouri.

The legal standard in Missouri for someone to be disabled and/or incapacitated is that by reason of a physical or mental condition they are unable to receive information or to communicated decisions to such an extent that he or she lacks capacity to meet essential requirements for food, clothing, shelter, safety or other care such that serious physical injury, illness, or disease is likely to occur.

With a conservatorship, the Missouri standard is that the person is unable by reason of a physical or mental condition to receive and evaluate information to communicate decisions to such an extent that the person lacks ability to manager his or her financial resources.

In certain instances, a conservator can be named for a person who has disappeared or been detained against his or her will.

A person who has been determined by a court to be disabled is referred to as a “protectee”.  A person who has been determined by a court to be incapacitated is referred to as a “ward”.

The proceeding to become conservator begins with the filing of a petition in the county where the person (called the “respondent”) resides.  Representation by an attorney is required under Missouri law.

After the Petition is filed, a hearing is set where the central issue to be determined by the court is whether or not the respondent is incapacitated or disabled or, in some cases has limited or partial incapacity or disability.

Once appointed, the primary duty of a conservator in Missouri is to protect and manage the protectee’s financial estate.  This includes properly and prudently investing the protectee’s assets, applying such asset’s for the protectee’s care and maintenance.  The court requires an inventory of the assets and income of the protectee be provided by the appointed conservator soon after appointment.  After that, each year the conservator must provide a full accounting, called a settlement, of all incomes and expenditures made on behalf of the protectee.

Contrary to common myth, a conservator is not ordinarily personally liable for the debts of the protectee.  The conservator must indicated to whomever they are dealing with the are acting on behalf o the protectee, however.  Unauthorized use of the protectee’s estate or misuse of their property by the conservator are grounds to revoke the legal authority of the conservator, and, possibly personal liability for any harm or loss suffered by the estate.

Conservatorship for a minor terminates in Missouri when the reach age 18.  For an incapacitated or disabled person, the conservatorship ends when either the protectee passes away or upon the protectee regaining competence.

Conservatorship work can be very emotionally rewarding and I’ve had the pleasure of assisting a few disabled individuals in great need of a conservator and who are now living with a much higher quality of life because a conservator was appointed.  One case in particular remains one of my favorite moments in practicing law.

If you are seeking advice or representation from a conservatorship attorney in Missouri, make sure to ask them about their past experience in this area.  You need to work with someone who has done many of these cases and can help you obtain conservatorship without any unnecessary delays and expense.