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Traditional health care power of attorney may not be enough

As the Baby Boomer generation of Oklahoma nears retirement age, most of their estate planning concerns center around retirement funds and inheritances that will be left to adult children. These worries are of course valid and should be addressed, but estate planning can play a much more profound role at this age. For instance, a durable health care power of attorney can help prevent elder abuse from affecting an incapacitated individual. Unfortunately, that alone might not be enough anymore.

With advances in health care, most people can now expect to live much longer than past generations, even if they have some type of chronic disease. A total of 92 percent of individuals aged at least 85 or older -- who happen to be the demographic with the fastest growing numbers -- have one chronic disease. Many of these individuals already have living wills with powers of attorney in order to ensure continued care in the event that they become incapacitated, but as this population grows, is this enough?

Elder abuse can easily crop up in the murky area between "well" and completely "incapacitated." Most people envision themselves unconscious in a hospital bed before needing anyone to step in and make decisions on their behalf, but this might not be the reality for boomers. Help is often necessary when a person is far from the extreme of becoming completely incapacitated, meaning that the person named in a financial power of attorney might be required to step in earlier than anticipated in order to help pay bills or sign necessary checks.

This can be a difficult issue for some people to address as it requires individuals to challenge their own ideas of what incapacitated really means. Virtually no one in Oklahoma wants to imagine that one day they might be unable to attend to their own monthly bills or set up necessary doctor appointments, but it is a possible reality. Equipping a younger, trusted individual with a financial or health care power of attorney can prevent unscrupulous people from taking advantage of an unanticipated situation.

Source: Forbes, "The Most Important Estate Planning Issue Boomers Need to Address", Kelley Long, May 8, 2016

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