Articles Posted in Incapacity

Estate planning is the process of preparing and managing a person’s assets and documenting final wishes. Houston estate planning attorneys frequently assist individuals in creating these essential documents. Estate plans typically include wills, financial power of attorney designations, medical directives to physicians and family, medical power of attorney designations, and final wishes. Although many of these documents relate to a person’s wishes after they pass, individuals should also have a plan in place in the event that they become incapacitated.

“Incapacity can happen to anyone, at anytime.”

A person may become incapacitated after they suffer an injury or illness that leaves them unable to make decisions or communicate their wishes. When individuals do not have a comprehensive, binding plan in place, a Houston probate judge may appoint someone to take control of the incapacitated person’s decisions. This person may make personal and medical decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual. These wishes may be contrary to an individual’s actual desires. Many people may believe that they do not need a plan in place because they own property or assets jointly with a loved one, however, there are many limitations on what the co-owner can do. Further, the co-owner may be subject to many undesirable situations, such as default judgments and civil lawsuits.

9.30.19It’s a hard thing to imagine: what would your life be like, if you were not able to take care of yourself? Not being able to manage your physical or financial needs, drive, leave your home without assistance, or do any of the things that you do now as a legally competent, abled-bodied person?

Being incapacitated means that someone has to be named to carry out your health care and manage your finances. Without a plan, courts usually get involved, and often people who don’t know the person needing help are the ones who make decisions for them. With a plan, as described in The Post-Searchlight’s recent article, “How to go about planning for incapacity,” you have the ability to tell what your wishes would be for health care and name someone to be in charge of your financial and legal affairs.

Incapacity can strike at any time. Advancing age can bring dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and a serious illness or accident can happen suddenly. Therefore, it’s a real possibility that you or your spouse could become unable to handle your own medical or financial affairs.

11.14.17It sounds like a nightmare scenario, and for many elderly, it is a reality: a court appoints a guardian and they lose the ability to make decisions about their assets and their lives, often with no advance warning.

An article in Reuters reports on a journalist’s investigation that revealed a case where a private guardian was appointed by a court in Nevada and got a court order making her guardian of a couple who had an adult daughter. With no advance notice to the couple or their daughter, the guardian sold all of their assets and got them admitted to a nursing home.

Reuters’ article, “With U.S. elder abuse in spotlight, a look at guardians,” reports that the abuses of private-guardian systems in some states have been known by policy and legal experts for years.

5.24.17At last, a happy ending for the estate of the late Veronica Shoemaker, a community activist who made service the heart of her life and business.

With the conclusion of the estate battle, Mattie Young, the daughter of the late Veronica Shoemaker, will now be able to keep her mother’s flower shop open and maintain her mother’s legacy of community service. Shoemaker devoted many years of her life to serving the Fort Myer’s community and Young was faced with a contested will struggle that threatened her ability to keep the shop open.

The Fort Meyers news-press.com reported on this saga in Shoemaker estate issue settled; florist shop stays open. Apparently, family members reached an agreement that assured Mattie would continue to run the Veronica S. Shoemaker Florist Shop in the Dunbar community its founder served for decades.

4.28.17A federal judge has ruled that a police officer’s uninvited entry into a house to check on the well-being of an adult with dementia, is shielded by qualified immunity. The response to a possible crisis was correct.

Given the number of elder abuse cases, it is encouraging that New York Judge Frank Geraci’s decision, as reported in the New York Law Journal’s article, “Officer's Welfare-Check on Elderly Man Is Shielded by Immunity, Court Says,” supported the actions of Lt. Joseph Buccilli, a police officer with the Orchard Park, NY Police Department.

The judge said the police officer was protected by his good faith actions in responding to an emergency. He had qualified immunity from a suit filed by the owners of the home he entered, in alleged violation of residents' Fourth Amendment rights to privacy. The judge went on to say that even if Buccilli's beliefs that his actions were justified in entering the home were based on wrong assumptions, the officer’s actions weren’t so "plainly incompetent" as would qualify as a violation of the resident's Fourth Amendment rights.

12.1.16Incapacity might be harder for some people to imagine than death. They can’t wrap their thoughts around the idea of being alive yet unable to function.

Making decisions for how you want to be cared for while you are still able to choose, is a gift to yourself and your loved ones. If you are not able to convey how much intervention you want, or if you want no care at all, your children and medical professionals will have to make the decision for you. According to Barron’s in “Three End-of-Life Estate Plan Lessons,” not planning for incapacity creates a heartbreaking situation for your heirs and could also undo a great deal of your estate plan.

Let’s look at some important lessons about incapacity planning:

9.8.16A cautionary tale ends with a will being declared invalid, firings at the local police station and a lesson in elder abuse.

A wealthy 92 year old woman suffering from dementia left a $2 million estate to a local police sergeant but after three years of legal wrangling, her will was found to be invalid and the police officer and his supervisor were both fired from their positions. In New Hampshire Magazine’s September 2016 issue the article “Navigating Non-Relative Inheritance,” explains how vigilant professionals must be, especially in cases where children or other family members are being disinherited.

Just about all of the inheritances in a typical estate go to family members or to the deceased’s favorite charities. But when an unrelated individual is the beneficiary of a valuable asset or a large sum of money, it can raise questions and perhaps suspicions from those who felt they had a right to the inheritance. The issue may become how to balance the wishes of the testator—by distributing his or her assets as he or she sees fit—with the right of the bequeathed or the beneficiary of the will to accept it without creating a conflict of interest or violating the essential trust.

7.1.16Choosing an executor is not easy, but it is very important. A person who is not capable of managing the tasks can drive even the best estate plan off the path.

Part of creating an estate plan is naming an executor who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes of the decedent, according to a recent item on InsuranceNewsNetMagazine.com, “The Wrong Executor Can Destroy Even the Best Estate Planning.” These tasks include everything from making sure that assets are distributed to tidying up outstanding debts and cleaning out houses. It’s important to select a person who can manage these tasks and—if they are stymied—who will recognize when they need help from professionals.

Executors sometimes are under the impression that it’s a quick and easy job. This might be the fault of the testator or the person who has executed the will. They select an executor and believe that he or she possesses the ability, acumen, time, and desire to carry out the duties of the position. Many don’t inquire as to whether the executor is interested in and capable of serving, or the chosen executor may be hesitant to say no.

Woman with doctorThe older the patients, the less likely they are to discuss a memory problem with their doctor during an office visit, according to a review of federal government data from more than 10,000 people. This review, published in Preventing Chronic Disease, also revealed that in 2011 as few as 1 in 4 adults age 45 and older discussed memory problems with their physician during routine checkups. The journal article and its findings were reported in US News & World Report's "Too Few Older Adults Tell Doctors About Memory Loss: Study."

Routine checkups can be a missed opportunity for assessing and discussing memory problems for the majority of older adults. Experts say the stigma of memory loss and dementia may keep some from discussing these issues with their doctors.
Many think that as long as we don't mention it, memory loss might just be normal aging. However, talking about memory troubles doesn't necessarily mean you have dementia. It might be another highly treatable condition, like depression. But if it is related to dementia, recognizing it early is crucial.

Patients can meet with family members and an experienced elder law attorney to get advice on making individualized decisions for their care, rather than relying on last-minute decisions.

Black white photo of handsThose holiday gatherings were important for Houston families.  And, family gatherings can be a valuable time for family discussions and decision making. This is particularly true for families facing the issues of legal incapacity, according to The Huffington Post. The article, "Legal Issues for Concerned Family and Friends of a Possibly Incapacitated Individual," advises that functional capacity is contextual. The challenges an individual faces in daily living and how well they are being addressed is sometimes hard to pin down. The legal terminology is frequently vague and inconsistent. Terms such as "incompetent," "unsound mind," and "incapacity" are used interchangeably.

State statutes typically define an "incapacitated person" as someone who, because of a physical or mental condition, is substantially unable to provide food, clothing, or shelter for himself or herself, to care for the individual's own physical health or to manage the individual's own financial affairs.

The courts will often require expert testimony and reports as to the individual's physical or mental state before rendering a judgment. Many states use a required standardized "Certificate of Medical Examination" form to be submitted to a court, which has the specific statutory definition of incapacity. It will often have boxes for the physician to check and a space for his or her comments.

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