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Will your family be able to step in for you if needed?

People may be living longer thanks to advancements in medical care, but many of them are also facing a time when they will no longer be able to make decisions for themselves. Whether it's due to old age, an accident or an illness, you could end up in this position.

Since you never know when incapacitation may strike, some preparation could save your family members the hassle and expense of petitioning a New York court for the right to help you. The time and effort spent in court could cost you more than just money; it could also keep you from getting the health care you need in a timely manner, and that could happen even if everything goes smoothly. If family members can't agree on who should step in for you, the process could take even longer.

You can help create a seamless transition

Estate planning is about much more than making sure you have a will to dispose of your property upon your death. It can also prepare you and your family for a time when you can't make decisions on your own. The following documents can act together or separately to allow trusted individuals to care you for when you need it:

  • A living will (also called an advance directive) outlines your preferences for the treatment you receive at the end of your life and acts as a road map for your family and doctors. For instance, this document can detail whether you want to be left on life support, resuscitated or receive other life-prolonging treatments.
  • A health care power of attorney allows someone you trust to step in and make decisions regarding the medical treatment you receive. This document works with your advance directives.
  • A durable power of attorney allows someone you trust to step in and make decisions for you regarding your finances. These documents can be as broad or limited as you desire, and you may require doctor certification of incapacity before it takes effect.
  • A revocable living trust could also help maintain continuity when it comes to your property and finances since your successor trustee can simply step in and take over if you become incapacitated.

As you can see, estate-planning documents can prove quite useful and powerful in the event of incapacitation, even on a temporary basis. You could recover, and at that time, you go back to making your own decisions. If your family must go to court, you could end up in a position where you would need to prove to the court that you can resume taking care of yourself. Until that happens, you would continue to be at the mercy of a guardian and/or conservator.

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