Execute a Power of Attorney Before It’s Too Late

A durable power of attorney is an extremely important estate planning tool, even more important than a will in many cases.  This crucial document allows a person you appoint — your “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — to act in place of you — the “principal” — for financial purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated due to dementia or some other reason.  The agent under the power of attorney can quickly step in and take care of your affairs.

But in order to execute a power of attorney and name an agent to stand in your shoes, you need to have capacity.  Regrettably, many people delay completing this vital estate planning step until it’s too late and they no longer are legally capable of doing it.

What happens then? Without a durable power of attorney, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. That court process takes time, costs money, and the judge may not choose the person you would prefer. In addition, under a guardianship or conservatorship, the representative must seek court permission to take planning steps that he or she could have implemented immediately under a durable power of attorney with gifting authority.

This is why it’s so important that you have a durable power of attorney in place before the capacity to execute the document is lost.

If you do not have someone you trust to appoint as your agent, it may be more appropriate to have the probate court looking over the shoulder of the person who is handling your affairs through a guardianship or conservatorship.

Because you need a third party to assess capacity and because you need to be certain that the formal legal requirements are followed, it can be risky to prepare and execute legal documents on your own without representation by an attorney. For assistance executing a durable power of attorney before it’s too late, contact the elder law and estate planning attorneys at Costanzo & Russom Law Group, LLC.

How an Estate Plan Saves You (Yes, You!) Money

People often focus on “how much” it costs to draw up an estate plan. In most cases, it’s more important to understand what it costs when you DON’T have an estate plan in place.

Every adult should have a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Living Will in place. Depending on where you live, a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney and a basic set of documents will probably cost less than $500.

But what will it cost if something happens to you without a plan in place? Here are a few of the “costs” you might not have considered:

  • Without a Last Will and Testament:

    • Your property passes to your intestate heirs. For most people, this is NOT the State. In New Jersey, it’s generally your closest living relatives. This might not be who you want to receive your assets (Do you have a blended family? Estranged child? Prefer to benefit someone else? Want to benefit a charity?);
    • Your next of kin will have to agree on who will administer your Estate. The administrator must be bonded. A bond, in this context, is like an insurance policy that the individual will properly administer the Estate. Bond premiums are based on several factors, including the size of the Estate and the administrator’s credit. Bonds must be renewed while the Estate is open. The bond requirement can be waived in a Will. This alone usually saves your family more money than the cost of a Will;
    • You won’t have nominated guardians for your minor children. The court decides;
    • Minors receive their inheritances outright at eighteen (18).
  • Without a Power of Attorney:

    • Your loved ones must seek court authority to manage your affairs during your lifetime if something happens to you. This process, even when uncontested, typically costs around $5,000 between attorneys fees and court costs. It can take several months to finalize. Court permission/approval is required for many things thereafter;
    • You don’t get to choose who manages your affairs during your lifetime.
  • Without a Living Will:

    • Your loved ones bear the burden of making end-of-life decisions for you;
    • Your decisions for end-of-life treatment aren’t memorialized;
    • You may be subjected to medical treatments that you would rather not endure.

Costanzo & Russom Law Group, LLC can help you put an estate plan in place to protect you and your family from these hidden “costs.” Call (732) 552-0900 to set up an appointment!