By Peter J. Knize, J.D., LL.M., Trust & Estate Services, Sanibel Captiva Trust Company
Did you know that 15% of Americans over age 70 suffer from dementia (and nearly 40% by age 90)? Or that 540,000 Floridians were living with an Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis in 2018 (a figure expected to increase to 720,000 by 2025)? Or that six of the top 10 causes of death in Florida (cancer, heart disease, unintentional injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s, pneumonia) involve some form of incapacity?
Incapacity impacts every aspect of daily life. Whether temporary or permanent, partial or total, incapacity robs its victims of their privacy, control, dignity and self-determination. Sadly, so many of us deny the statistics. We think “that won’t happen to me,” fooling ourselves into believing we will be in full control of our daily lives, directing every detail until the very end. And, most mistakenly—that “the end” will come quickly. This conceptual fallacy of “I will be the exception to the rule” places us in a vulnerable position during an incapacity period, when we need help the most.
Prudence dictates we anticipate that each of us will experience some level of incapacity during our final months, and plan accordingly. A well-structured incapacity plan should seamlessly transition our wishes and preferences to our future needs. Critical to a seamless plan, make sure these three essentials continue uninterrupted – health care decision-making; financial management; and day-to-day living.
The Goal is simple: To protect ourselves by ensuring our choices and autonomy are respected to the greatest degree possible. Here is the Game Plan:
Build your A-Team – NOW. Central to the Game Plan is picking your multi-member incapacity team—your A-Team. Members of your A-Team will be making medical decisions, paying bills, overseeing investments, filing tax returns, and even walking your dog – so trustworthiness is paramount. Deciding who to trust can be difficult – but keep in mind the old English proverb: It is an equal failing to trust everybody, and to trust nobody. Next, the A-Team members’ experience, location and work schedules should be considered. Do they have the expertise required for the job? Is it necessary that one or more members live nearby? Will they have time to handle emergencies as they arise? Finally, it is always wise to have an attorney, accountant, professional fiduciary or trust company serve on your A-Team to provide professional oversight.
Have legal documents at the ready – NOW. Make sure your legal documents are comprehensive and up to date. A Financial Power of Attorney confers legal authority to your A-Team member(s) to manage financial affairs. A Health Care Power of Attorney allows your A-Team member(s) to make medical decisions should an incapacity event occur. A Living Will details your end-of-life directions to your A-Team, doctors and loved ones. Each document is critical to a well-structured, multifaceted incapacity game plan.
Tell your A-Team your game plan – NOW. Share your thoughts on your future living arrangements, investment priorities, end-of-life wishes, and burial and inurnment directives.