I recently lost my mom. For the last couple of years she had a variety of health issues that eventually caught up with her. I don’t care how prepared you are, it is always difficult to lose a parent. That being said, what would have made things even more difficult is if I didn’t have the necessary legal documents to handle the situation.

For the last couple of years of my mom’s life, she faced a variety of challenges that my brother and I had to handle. Not only were there her health issues, but we also had to handle her finances. What made things easier to handle was the fact that we had medical durable powers of attorney and general durable powers of attorney. I cannot stress enough how important it is for every adult to make sure they have the proper estate planning documents. Handling a family crisis is difficult in the best of circumstances; however, if you don’t have the necessary legal documents, handling a family crisis can be a nightmare.

The two powers of attorney that help you handle family emergencies and crises are a general durable power of attorney and a medical durable power of attorney. A general durable power of attorney basically allows you to operate on someone’s behalf and to handle all their legal and financial matters other than healthcare. The medical durable power of attorney is the legal document that authorizes you to make medical decisions for someone. Between the general durable power of attorney and the medical durable power of attorney, basically someone can handle all your personal, financial and health decisions. The fact that we had those two documents made handling my mom’s situation made it much easier and efficient. If we did not have these documents we would have been forced to go to court to obtain the necessary powers. As we all know, court gets expensive and time consuming. In addition, who wants to bring in outsiders when it comes to family situations? Therefore, I cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone to obtain these two legal documents.

There is a general thought that husband and wife do not have to obtain these documents because of the fact that they’re married; unfortunately, that is not the case. In the past, a husband could make decisions for a wife and vice versa; that is no longer the case today. In today’s world with blended families, it is more important than ever that everyone obtain the necessary legal documents in order to handle a family crisis.

What also helps in managing my mom’s affairs was that I had known all her passwords and user IDs for any online presence that she had. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Without that information, it would have been difficult to access certain accounts. That is why it is important that everyone has a plan in place, so that if something does happen, a loved one or a trusted friend can access information as easily as possible. Remember, the goal is not to bring judges, courts and lawyers into family affairs. The more you are prepared for family emergencies, the easier it will be to handle them.

When people think of estate planning they always think it is dealing with death. Although death is one of the main reasons someone should do an estate plan, it is important that the estate plan also deals with how to handle a family emergency. In today’s world with privacy rights the way they are, people living longer and with the complexity of life, it is more important than ever that we think about estate planning as more than just planning for one’s death, but also planning for family emergencies. Remember, you don’t have to have a lot of money or a lot of resources for a family emergency to cause havoc to your family. That is why people shouldn’t wait to do an estate plan until they accumulate wealth; rather, they should begin doing estate planning as soon as they become legal adults. That means even an 18-year-old, at a minimum, should have medical and durable power of attorneys, so that if something happens a loved one can handle their affairs.

In the best of situations, losing a mother or a loved one is not easy. However, what makes it even more difficult is that in addition to your grief, you have legal issues and barriers that you are forced to deal with. I’ve always said, the main reason you should do an estate plan is not to save on taxes or to avoid probate but rather, because you love your family. Therefore, if you want to make handling a family crisis as easy as possible, my advice: You need to do some estate planning sooner than later.

Good luck!

If you would like Rick to respond to your questions, please email Rick at rick@bloomassetmanagement.com.