Remember that great TV show, +“What’s My Line”? It ran for seventeen consecutive years on +CBS Television from 1950 to 1967, and it boasted several international versions, making it the longest running prime time game show in U.S. television history. Through a series of “Yes” or “No”questions, panelists attempted to guess the “line” (i.e., occupation) of the guest. You can all remember the big surprises and laughter that ensued when the panel just couldn’t guess the occupation, or were surprised by what the person really did. But that was part of the great fun and it was very entertaining.
What happens when a situation involves something more serious, and you really need to know who you’re dealing with? For example, when you prepare an estate plan, one of the things you have to decide is who is going to oversee your financial, medical, and personal needs if you are no longer able to do so. These questions come up in preparing a medical power of attorney, a durable power of attorney, a designation of guardian, and even in signing a HIPAA release to list what persons are entitled to receive information about your medical care from your doctors. As you can see from this short list, I’m not talking about planning for death. I’m talking about planning for assistance during your lifetime, and selecting the right person.
People are living much longer. At some point, we may need someone to assist us with things like financial decisions, money management, health care decisions, or even help us care for our physical wellbeing. The four documents listed above are part of every estate plan prepared in my law practice, together with the client’s will or trust.
In choose your agents – i.e., those who will act on your behalf -- you’re lucky if you have a spouse, because typically that’s the first person called upon to fulfill these three important needs if you can no longer manage your own affairs. Even under those circumstances, however, as a couple ages together they both may come to a point where they need to reach outside of their immediate household to a third person to act as a co-trustee, a guardian, grant a medical power of attorney, etc., should the need arise.
As you select an agent, realize that sometimes no one person has all of the skills, the time, or the geographic convenience to serve in all of these capacities. Thus, you may decide to have your daughter the CPA who lives in New York oversee your financial affairs, while your son from Austin handles your day to day medical and personal needs, simply because he lives nearby. If you don’t have children, or if your children wouldn’t know the first thing about how to handle money responsibly, maybe your household would benefit from using an outside service known as a “professional fiduciary” or have a financial institution to oversee your financial affairs if you cannot.
You really have a broad range of choices. The key is coming up with the right solution that suits your needs. My suggestion is to take care of this while you are well, before you no longer have a choice. If you wait until illness strikes, it’s can be too late and you may end up having someone you’d never select involved in your most personal affairs. As with the panelists on “What’s My Line”, take the time to ask yourself “Yes” / “No” questions about each person to decide who in your life is best suited to serve you. Better that you go through that process now, whether on your own or with the help of an experienced attorney. This will help you figure out what qualifications your representatives will need to oversee your unique situation, and who you can really trust. Remember, it’s your “line” they are helping you perform, and you deserve to have the best help at your side if ever you need an extra hand.
For more information on estate planning and other legal needs, or if you have a legal question you would like for me to address, please visit my website at www.leflerlegal.com, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 512-863-5658. My office is located in Tamiro Plaza, 501 South Austin Avenue, Suite 1320, in Georgetown, Texas.