What Happens When You Become “Incapacitated”?

For some, Incapacity is scarier than Death. Having worked with over 100 families, I can tell you that incapacity is unique to each individual. Here is an example to help you think about how you might like to prepare for your own incapacity. As always, I recommend that you discuss your concerns and feelings with your attorney, so that your documents reflect your wishes as accurately as possible.

Helen was a power house all of her professional life. She loved her work, and more than the work itself, she loved the energy she felt when moving the work along, following up with her team and clients, and reveling in the results of the solutions she offered. Retiring was far away for her, even at 75 years old, when she had a car accident. The accident wasn’t her fault, but it changed her life in profound ways.

Helen’s body was injured and required about six months to heal. She couldn’t drive, or work, because her head injury changed her eyesight and her temperament. She grew impatient, refusing physical therapy and pain medication. She didn’t want to go to the doctor anymore, “It’s always bad news”, and her enjoyment of life diminished.

Helen lived alone and stopped paying attention to bill paying, investments, or social engagements. When she missed her annual tax appointment, her CPA reached out to her and asked if she was ok. The CPA sought permission to contact her successor trustee. As someone who naturally plans ahead, Helen had her estate plan in place, but the last time it was updated was around her 65th birthday. Now, ten years later, two of her listed successors had moved out of state and declined to serve.

Helen was still aware, and still knew who she was, what she had, and who she wanted as beneficiaries. Talking took a lot of effort for Helen, and she processed new information more slowly than in the past. With the CPA’s encouragement, Helen visited with her attorney to discuss next steps. She was not excited about having someone else pay her bills, or care for her, but she acknowledged that things had changed, and she needed help. This was a tough conversation! Her attorney suggested that she meet me and talk about working together.

When I met Helen, I wanted to learn what she considered to be a happy life. Her documents were well written, and she had plenty of assets, but there was something missing from her plan; How does Helen like to have fun? Helen showed me her home (stairs everywhere) and let me know how lonely she was. We decided together to set up a meeting with a professional care manager, and get some help in to assist Helen with day to day needs at home. Helen decided to name me as her Trustee, she resigned, and once I had the job, I went to work.

I received Helen’s permission to share my annual accountings with her attorney going forward, and to keep utilizing the services of her CPA. I knew from the care manager’s assessment that Helen’s capacity would diminish over time, and knowing she had her favorite professionals in her corner was comforting to both Helen and me. With Helen’s ok, we reached out to her former workmates and colleagues, and she had a regular string of visitors who kept her engaged.

Over the years, Helen’s cognition continued to change. With her agreement (and lots of tours), she and her care manager selected an assisted living residence, and she moved in. I sold her home, and invested the proceeds for her benefit. She made friends right away, and started to have some of her past energy. She developed aphasia (loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage), and became more frustrated.  I continued to report to her, but after a few years, she didn’t want to see the accountings anymore. Eventually, instead of speaking, she would nod her head, or gesture.

I would visit Helen from time to time, and on our last visit, we held hands and listened to her favorite music, all conversation no longer necessary.

There is no way to predict exactly what you are going to need, or when you are going to need it. Your preferences are an important aspect of your estate plan. This is why planning ahead is so important! It’s never too soon to consider how you would like to be cared for, and what fun you want included in your everyday life, if you cannot fully express what you want in that moment. Whoever you have selected to serve as your Agent for Health Care should know about what you enjoy, and who is important to you. Please keep your Agent up to date as your life grows and changes.

Marguerite Lorenz, CTFA, CLPF is a Master Trustee and a Managing Partner at Lorenz Private Trustees (MyTrustee.net) and has served as a Trustee and Executor since 2003.

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