One of the common things to do when it comes to estate planning is to only focus on what happens when you die and ignore planning for the possibility of a medical emergency where you may not die but are temporarily or permanently incapacitated.  Think accident, head injury, stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, early onset of dementia or mental illness, and the list can go on.  If you have not planned for these situations, you and your loved ones are in a very vulnerable position.

Emergency Planning Is Easy to Overlook

We call this emergency planning.  It’s also known in the legal world as incapacity planning.

It’s part of the human condition to not want to think mortality or morbidity. It’s easier instead to delay dealing with it and remain in denial rather than embracing the possible challenges and complexities. That is why so many of us operate on a belief that they will just one day die peacefully in their sleep and never suffer from illness or complication beforehand.  Even though we logically understand that life rarely happens this way, we justify our procrastination as it’s our human defense mechanism to protect present comfort.

We hear it all the time:

  • “My health is health is good”
  • “No one in my family has had Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or dementia”
  • “My wife/husband (or other family members) will know what to do for me.”
  • “I filled out some legal paperwork the last time I went to my doctor or the hospital so I’m fine.”

Important Health Facts You Should Know

Sadly, the statistics tell us that as America’s population ages and lives longer, many will face declining mental health and suffer various forms dementia regardless of family history. Consider these facts from the Alzheimer’s Association and the Parkinson’s Foundation:

  • 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • By 2050 the total number of Alzheimer’s cases is projected to grow to 14 million
  • 5.6 million seniors 65 years old and older (that’s 1 out of 10 seniors).
  • 200,000 under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.
  • Nearly 1 million Americans will be living with Parkinson’s by 2020
  • 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year
  • 4% of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are under the age of 50 years old.

But it’s not just dementia to be concerned about, as heart attack, stroke, or other accidents could leave you with traumatic brain injury, diminished capacity, or in a coma.

Questions You Need to Answer

If not properly planned, important questions remain that you need to address before it’s too late for answers:

  • What actually will happen to me?
  • Who are my decision-makers and will they legally be allowed to act on my behalf
  • What are my wishes regarding types of treatment?
  • What are my wishes in who and how I should be cared for?
  • What are my wishes regarding end-of-life?
  • How will my wishes be known and be able to be carried out?

If you already have legal documents that were prepared in the past, now is the time to ask yourself:

  • Where are they?
  • Can my decision-makers access them in an emergency?
  • Are they still valid?
  • Are they current with my wishes?

What Happens If You Don’t Have an Emergency Plan?

Too often we see people operate on the misbelief that spouses or relative will automatically be recognized as having legal authority to act or that somehow their wishes will just be known and honored. Other times, they have boilerplate legal documents that don’t match their wishes or are ill-equipped to handle the situation at hand.

The result?

Confusion, emotional stress, possible family conflict and having to go through a burdensome and expensive court process to have a judge appoint a conservator for you….Ultimately, a mess.

But the good news is you can avoid all of this by engaging in good emergency planning (also known as incapacity planning) with a qualified estate planning attorney.  If you would like to know more, we are happy to share with you what that looks like and help you take the necessary steps to have a plan that works in any emergency situation.

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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and teaching others how to protect what matters most.

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