Today, I want to talk to you about when is it appropriate to execute powers of attorney or at what age is it appropriate to execute powers of attorney? The answer is a soon as you turn 18. At the age of 18, we change from minors to legal adults and nobody can transact business on our behalf unless we have powers of attorney in place to make that happen.
Let me give you an example of some cases where it makes sense of to have powers of attorney. Sometimes we had them and sometimes we didn’t. We had a client who had a college-aged student over the age of 18 who was in a car accident and received a settlement as a result of that. Also, the child had an extensive period of recuperation and therapy. Well, there were no powers of attorney. Therefore, the family was – the mother and father were forced to go through a guardianship procedure in order to manage the settlement and the medical decisions for this individual. I always tell our clients, “Once your children turn 18, it may be very wise, particularly while they’re in college and still under your roof, so to speak, to have them execute powers of attorney, both medical and financial, so that decisions can be made on their behalf in the event of an emergency or an accident.”
Now, we’ve also had another case where the 38-year-old son of one of our clients was in the middle of a divorce and had a stroke, and it was touch and go whether he would live. He did survive, but he had no powers of attorney in place. Normally, the medical providers would rely on the advice of the spouse, but in this particular case, the spouse had a vested interest in the death of the man because if he died, she would in inherit 100% of the estate as his legal heir, but if he survived and the divorce went through, she would only get essentially one half of the estate through the divorce settlement. It became apparent to the medical providers that the wife was not making good medical decisions and they did bring in the parents and basically allowed the parents and the wife to make joint decisions for care. Clearly – this 38-year-old individual – the day that he knew he was getting divorced, whether he filed for it or his wife filed for it, should have executed powers of attorney with another individual, such as his parents, to make sure that prudent decisions were being made for his care.
Now, we had another case just recently where a blended family did execute powers of attorney and a trust. It was a second marriage and there was a lot of contention between the stepfamilies about the marriage and a lot of potential for conflict. A week after the documents were executed, the client, who was 55 years old and apparently healthy, had a massive stroke at work at 8:30 in the morning. He wasn’t discovered until 11 p.m. that evening by the cleaning crew, and of course, has suffered significant damage due to the stroke. Well, the good news is we have all of the documents in place so that his wife is able to provide the proper care for him and to administer his estate for his benefit without interference from the other family members.
We’ve gone from an 18-year-old to a 38-year-old to a 55-year-old. I also had a lady a couple of years ago who called me from one of the senior citizen communities in Dallas, and she wanted to have me prepare powers of attorney for her husband. Now, here’s the circumstance. She was in her eighties – husband was in his eighties and he had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had been moved from the independent living section of the senior citizen community to the Alzheimer’s or memory care section of the senior citizen community.
They did not have any powers of attorney. Most of the money was in his name. Most of the income was his. Therefore, she had to rely on his income and assets to pay for their rent and living expenses, but she had no access to those assets because she had no powers of attorney. I did meet with her and her husband to determine if he had sufficient mental capacity to execute those documents, but unfortunately, he did not. Therefore, we were faced with a guardianship procedure. In this case, there was contention between her and the stepfamily and she elected not to go forward with the guardianship and to allow the family members to take care of the situation. It was very stressful for her and very difficult for her to handle. I asked her – I said, “Well, you’ve been married for 18 years, why didn’t you do estate planning documents when you got married?” She said, “Well, we were busy having a good time, taking cruises and traveling,” and then, before they knew it, health issues arose before they were ready and they weren’t prepared.
Eighteen, 38, 55 or in your 80s, it’s always appropriate to have the proper documents in place so that only the people that you want can make decisions for you for medical and financial purposes.
I hope this is helpful.