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The other side of estate planning -- incapacitation

Most every District of Columbia resident is familiar with the part of estate planning that takes effect after death, such as wills and trusts. However, there is another side to estate planning that also bears careful consideration -- the possibility of incapacitation. Documents concerning these issues typically allow a trusted person to handle an individual's financial affairs and health care decisions if he or she is no longer capable of doing so.

Durable powers of attorney allow one or more individuals to make financial decisions for a person who is incapacitated due to an illness or accident. A separate power of attorney grants the ability to make health care decisions. These documents can contain a provision that they only become effective when one or more physicians agree that an individual is incompetent or otherwise unable to take care of him or herself. Without these documents, family members will have to spend valuable time and money obtaining the right to make these decisions from a District of Columbia court.

A revocable trust, which can be changed or terminated during the grantor's lifetime, can also be a useful tool in the event of incapacitation. The creator of the trust (the grantor) can serve as its trustee until he or she is unable to do so. At that point, the alternate trustee named in the document can take over administering the trust without the need for court approval.

Even if a person's circumstances do not necessitate the use of a trust, powers of attorney are essential. Just as no one knows when he or she will pass away, it is nearly impossible to predict whether an individual will be able to make competent decisions until the end of life. For this reason, estate planning needs to address this possibility. The peace of mind it gives family members and the individual could be considered priceless.

Source: fedweek.com, "Preparing for Possible Incapacity", April 23, 2015

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