Searching for a Support System (Part 3)

       In last week’s blog post I explained some options for our hypothetical client, Jane Doe, who has a limited family and friend support system. Neighbors, friends from different walks of life and professionals both on the health care and legal/financial side can be alternatives. I have found in my years of practice that there are many goodhearted people willing to help. There are, however, abuses that can occur. We read about them occasionally in the media. So what steps can Jane take to minimize that risk?

       Giving someone power of attorney over financial matters, by necessity, gives the agent access to your money, an unnerving thought for many. Choosing co-agents who must specifically act together can minimize the risk of abuse. Only providing access to certain accounts and not others can also be a workable option although Jane needs to make sure she gives the agent access to enough funds to meet her needs.

       If Jane has a professional such as an attorney, accountant or financial advisor that she is comfortable with, that person can monitor the agent’s actions. An easy way to do that is to receive monthly statements. Provision can also be made that requires a second person to “sign off” on transfers greater than a certain amount.

       There are more formal arrangements as well. While a guardianship is only possible if Jane has been adjudicated as being incompetent, a conservatorship is another option. Jane can apply to a judge to appoint a conservator to handle her finances. This appointment cannot be made without Jane’s consent, but the conservatorship process does provide for court oversight. The negative to a conservatorship is that a court proceeding is more expensive than the preparation of a power of attorney. It also will require a hearing before a judge. To terminate the conservatorship another court appearance will most likely be necessary as well.

       As our country’s population continues to age, we will see more “Jane Does” needing assistance. Jane would do best consulting with a knowledgeable elder law attorney to discuss which option she is most comfortable with.

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