How can I protect my financial interests if I become incapacitated?

Legal guardianships or powers of attorney protect people from financial abuse and other hardships when they are unable to make decisions on their own.

It can be easy to assume estate planning is all about leaving an inheritance to one's heirs, but it is much more nuanced than that. Californians may also want to consider the possibility of becoming disabled or incapacitated, and what might happen to them if they are no longer able to make informed decisions on their own.

According to the National Adult Protective Services Association, about one out of every 20 senior citizens in America will be victimized by financial abuse ploys. It is even more disturbing to note that these numbers may be underreported. There are many scams that target vulnerable senior citizens, but it is sadly even more common for an elderly person to be targeted by someone he or she knows and trusts - often a family member, caregiver or close friend. There are several options available to protect seniors from financial abuse, as well as to allow them to make advance decisions on their own terms before they become incapacitated.

Obtaining legal guardianship

Many incapacitating events are sudden and unexpected, but can be life-changing and irreversible. One day, an elderly parent is fully capable of getting around and taking care of his or her own needs, but the next day, a mild stroke can obliterate any chances of living independently. When one has not taken the steps to address a potential disability in the future, concerned loved ones might protect an incapacitated parent from financial abuse by seeking a guardianship order from the court. This can allow the parent to keep his or her dignity, while the legal guardian has access to the parent's funds for paying bills, taking care of medical needs and upholding a comfortable standard of living. Additionally, a senior's legal guardian can make other decisions on the parent's behalf.

Granting power of attorney

Power of attorney is granted ahead of time before one's cognitive abilities are compromised. A parent with a family history of Alzheimer's disease or who is in the early stages of dementia might grant power of attorney to a child or caregiver. This gives permission for the other person to make financial decisions when the parent is no longer able to do so.

It is not always pleasant to think about being unable to make important decisions on one's own. However, addressing these possibilities in advance, before they become a problem, can ease the minds of California residents and their families. It is important to seek counsel from an experienced estate planning attorney.