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Estate planning involves more than just financial concerns

What happens when an individual is overtaken by sudden incapacity? An attorney that specializes in estate planning knows that undesirable consequences may follow, even if loved ones know that the individual would have wanted a different outcome.

For example, if an accident or illness renders an individual unable to take care of his or her own finances, several legal instruments can ensure that the individual’s preferences are still respected. A durable general power of attorney can designate an agent to make decisions concerning purchases, investment accounts, finances and real estate.

What if an individual can no longer make his or her own health decisions? A durable health care power of attorney is the instrument for this circumstance. This document may designate an agent who will make medical care and treatment decisions, such as whether a person might want to receive care in a hospital or from other types of health professionals.

Yet such advance planning may be a sensitive subject. An attorney knows that starting the discussion is perhaps the best way to overcome this fear. There is nothing to lose by learning about the available estate planning options, and only undesirable outcomes to avoid by executing a will or trust.

Unfortunately, some incapacitated individuals may not have such documents in place, which means that an individual may need to be designated with decision-making authority by a court or other means. In the case of Social Security disability benefits, a representative payee is such a person, collecting payments on behalf of a disabled person who cannot make his or her own financial decisions. Yet even federal officials recognize the potential risk of such designations, which may explain their motivation in launching a new criminal background screening procedure for representative payee applicants.

Source: Philly.com, "Social Security expands background checks," Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, Philadelphia Daily News, March 3, 2014

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Larmore Scarlett LLP

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