The importance of powers of attorney for elderly relatives

New Jersey residents may believe that the benefits of estate planning only really become apparent when a loved one passes away, but documents like powers of attorney and health care directives can be crucially important if a family member is left incapacitated by an illness or injury. Many families learn this lesson the hard way when elderly relatives are stricken with conditions like Alzheimer's disease and are no longer able to make decisions for themselves.

Families who take proactive steps and have powers of attorney put into place can designate individuals to make important decisions and take care of financial matters. These documents could also be used to set up an irrevocable trust to shelter an elderly relative's assets from the costs associated with prolonged medical care. When there is no power of attorney in place, relatives must petition the court to appoint a conservator.

This can be a contentious and costly process, and there is no guarantee that the court's decision will reflect what the elderly relative concerned would have wanted. In addition to court and probate investigation fees, conservators are required to keep detailed records and provide periodic accountings to the court. Court permission may also be required before any assets, such as a home, can be sold.

Estate planning attorneys will likely have encountered situations where family members have become embroiled in conflict over how best to deal with the financial matters of an incapacitated relative. They may recommend that a durable power of attorney be drafted to avoid such situations, and they could also suggest health care directives for those who wish to designate an individual to make important medical decisions on their behalf should an injury or illness leave them incapacitated.

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