Planning for Life

Michelle Singletary Makes Plea for Durable Powers of Attorney

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on April 8, 2014

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By Harry S. Margolis

Washington Post financial columnist Michelle Singletary recently made an impassioned plea on the National Public Radio program "Here and Now" for everyone to execute a durable power of attorney and other estate planning instruments. Her mother was recently hurt in a house fire and without a power of attorney or health care proxy Singletary and her sister are struggling to take care of her and her damaged house, and to pay her bills, without access to any of her records or accounts. 

Similar to the cobbler whose children don't have shoes, even financial professionals can't necessarily get their parents to take the necessary planning steps. Singletary's mother didn't want other people interfering in her affairs so resisted executing any estate planning documents.

"My mother was fiercely protective of her personal information. She wouldn’t prepare a will, which specifies your wishes for your assets, or a living will or other directives that stipulate what kind of medical care you want or don’t want if you’re unable to speak for yourself"

Now, just at the time that she needs help, it's much more difficult for her daughters than it would be if the right documents were in place.

Singletary counsels executing a health care proxy, durable power of attorney, will and letter of instructions to take care of your loved ones. The letter of instructions is really a list of financial assets and information on how to access them, including on-line usernames and passwords.

The interviewer, Robin Young, asked if people can use on-line forms or should see an attorney. Singletary responded that it's important to meet with an attorney who will know about changes in the law and specific documents that must be signed. She said that "I'm a frugal person but this is not the time to be a penny pincher." The cost can range significantly from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on where you live and how simple or complicated your situation is.

However, if you really cannot afford to meet with an attorney right now, Singletary said to use the on-line forms as a stop gap until you can.

To hear Michelle Singletary's impassioned plea, click here.

In short, if you're not going to do estate planning for yourself, do it for your loved ones. In a column Singletary wrote telling her mother's story, she says:

"If you care about those who will handle things for you in case you become incapacitated, help them now. Do it if you have dependent children or someone depending on you financially. Do it for the people you will leave behind."

Click here to read the entire column.

Topics: Estate Planning

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