How to Minimize Future Conflicts Involving Your Estate

Most of us hope to live a long life and make it to a ripe old age. But at some point, the aging process may impact your capacity to manage your finances and medical care. You’ll need some help.

Why do you need to plan for the future?

What if you are incapacitated? How do you ensure your wishes for care are carried out?

Enter your estate plan – one equipped with all the necessary documents to ensure your affairs are properly managed by people you trust.

There are two tools to consider in particular:

1. The Power of Attorney; and

2. A Health Care Proxy.

Both are invaluable tools for disability planning.

What does the Power of Attorney do?

A power of attorney, with every provision executed, appoints an agent to make decisions for you in all non-medical matters.

What does a Health Care Proxy do?

Your Health Care Proxy names a person you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf should you be unable to make those decisions yourself. For a more detailed description of these tools, check out this previous entry in our journal.

Clearly, these documents are critical in the event of your incapacitation or disability. But they should not be created in a vacuum.

Both documents give your appointed agents an incredible amount of power over important matters (e.g., your health and finances). Without proper estate planning, these assignments can create issues if you aren’t careful.

How does estate planning relate to astronauts?

Consider the case of Buzz Aldrin. World-renowned as the second man to walk on the moon, Aldrin is also famous for suing his children over the management of his finances.

What happened?

Aldrin initially named his son, Andrew Aldrin, as trustee of his trust. This power, which was later revoked, gave Andrew control over his father’s finances and business enterprises.

According to a report by CBS News, Aldrin’s children, Andrew and Jan, filed a petition to seek guardianship of their father’s affairs, citing his alleged paranoia and delusions, which they said rendered him unable to manage his own affairs.

In response, Aldrin sued his children, accusing them of slander and financial mismanagement. Aldrin claimed that although he had revoked his son’s power of attorney, Andrew Aldrin continued controlling his finances. This case demonstrates why it is important to be extra cautious when planning your estate documents.

Here are three lessons we can learn from the case of Astronaut Buzz Aldrin:

(1) Choose Your Agent(s) Wisely

It is important that you select the right person to act on your behalf. You should have confidence that your agent will intelligently and honestly make decisions involving your medical and non-medical matters.

As we can take away from Aldrin’s troubles, it might not always be appropriate or necessary to appoint a relative as your agent. Depending on the size of your estate/assets, you might even consider naming a paid professional to oversee your affairs. It may also be wise to consider appointing multiple agents so long as your co-agents can easily coordinate with one another to make decisions. Lastly, do not hesitate to reassess your choices based on changing circumstances!

(2) Establish Accountability and Oversight

To ensure that your agent is performing his/her/their duties, establishing simple forms of oversight can be useful. For instance, you may consider requiring that account statements be routinely reviewed by an objective party who can spot any suspicious transactions.

(3) Be Clear!

It is crucial that you clearly spell out the responsibilities your agent(s) will be undertaking in the event of your incapacity so that they are clear about what is expected of them. Beyond this, you want your intentions to be explicit. Aldrin, for example, claimed that his children acted selfishly and in opposition to his interests. To avoid these types of conflict, be clear about what you want.

Creating an estate plan requires care and attention to detail. If you have questions about your own estate planning strategies, let’s talk. Feel free to contact us regarding any reservations you may have about getting started, email us at info@bischoflegal.com, or call us at 212-867-9120.

We are here to make estate planning easy for you as you plan for your family’s future.

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