I recently received a phone call from a reader regarding his father. The father had recently been moved into a nursing facility due to the onset of dementia. 

It appears the father had a bank account, which the son needed to access to pay for the father’s care. However, the bank told the son that only the father was listed as owner of the account. Although the son was listed as Payable on Death beneficiary of the account, the bank wouldn’t allow him to access it.  The bank suggested that the son obtain a Power of Attorney.

The son asked if I could draft a POA for him, and if so, when could he pick it up? We talked for a few minutes and it soon became apparent that the son thought he could sign a POA himself, which would allow him to access his father’s account.

I was greeted by stunned silence when I told him the POA would need to be signed by his father, not him. That was quickly replaced with a question asking how his dad was supposed to sign the POA in his current condition. I suggested that his condition could be a problem and quickly shifted into talking about guardianships.

At some point, the son asked me why the attorney who did his estate plan didn’t prepare a POA, to which I responded, maybe he did. I also asked if he had checked. To make a long story short, the son pulled dad’s estate planning portfolio and found a POA.

Fortunately, it appears that this situation resolved itself. I haven’t heard back from the son so I’m going to assume that everything worked out. However, it just as easily could have resulted in a guardianship along with the time and expense associated with it.

Now, I have a couple of things that I want you take away from this situation.  The first is that estate planning is much more than simply making sure your stuff gets to your loved ones. I know it’s tempting to think of estate planning as creating a will but it’s much more than that. A good estate plan will take care of you during your lifetime as well as your family after your death.

With this in mind, I cannot stress enough the need for a POA. I’m such a big fan of POAs that I even had my 18-year-old son sign one and he’s young, healthy and strong as a bull.

The second thing that I want you to take away is that these things need to be in place before there is a problem. If you don’t plan ahead, it may be too late to plan at all. When you are being admitted to a facility with dementia, chances are pretty good that estate planning is not going to be an option.

Remember, folks, that it is easier to avoid a problem than to solve it later. It’s also usually a lot less expensive.

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Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at www.nwi.com. Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chrisyugolaw@gmail.com. Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.

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