Tale of Caution: Avoid Conservatorship

Hi there, Bridget Mackay here. I’m an attorney in Petaluma and I practice in the area of estate planning and elder law. And today is this month’s tale of caution and it concerns waiting too long to prepare your estate plan and what that means.

I want to introduce you to my client, we’ll call her “Deborah”. She lost her husband about 10 years ago and had gotten a large life insurance policy payout. She enjoyed these proceeds for a long time, traveling in Europe and all over the world and just enjoying herself. Fixing up the house… And after her husband died a friend of hers recommended to her to get a will to pass her assets on when she died.

Deborah and her husband had no children so she wasn’t really motivated to do this. Figuring her family members, her brothers and sisters, could sort out everything when she dies, they’ll just deal with it then and that’s the attitude she took. Unfortunately for Deborah she did something less than die and she had a massive stroke and survived it. She regained enough consciousness to understand what was going on which meant she was needing long term skilled nursing, so she’s in a nursing home for the rest of her life, but not enough consciousness and physical abilities to take care of herself or communicate directly.

She had a brother on the other coast who came out to help, in New York. He could not make medical decisions once he found out she had her stroke or any financial decisions for her because she had not prepared anything in document-wise for him to do so. It was now too late because she no longer had the mental capacity to sign such documents, let alone the physical capacity to sign her name. He had to go to court and get something called a Conservatorship over her which would allow him to make all her health decisions and take over her finances. The court as a result now monitors him. He’s required to come to the West Coast at least four times a year to manage things. He pays all her bills. He sold her house and moved her money into one account to cover everything. So far, the attorney fees for this process and court costs have totaled around $25,000 just spent in the last 18 months on those two things.

Her brother now has another job in his retirement and that is to manage her affairs. Ultimately, sadly, had he had the ability to make medical decisions when the stroke occurred he may have not chosen to prolong life which was the decision that got missed after her stroke. Don’t wait until it’s too late to choose who will take care of you and how they will do it. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney, put the right documents and people in place.

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