When is it too late for Estate Planning?
I recently took a trip to central Mexico to visit my parents, who have retired there. While eating breakfast at a restaurant in the Mérida airport upon our arrival my husband asked my 96-year-old grandmother, who was diagnosed several years ago with Alzheimer’s disease and now lives with my parents, “So Mary, what do you appreciate most about living in Mexico?” My grandmother replied, “I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been to Mexico!”
Fortunately, everyone at the table (except, perhaps, my 4-year-old daughter) knew the best response in this situation was to smile and simply redirect our conversation. For obvious reasons, it would be too late at this point for Grandma Mary to sign any legal documents. Fortunately, she put an estate plan in place years ago to ensure my mom would never need to go through a guardianship proceeding should she become mentally incapacitated.
Under Wisconsin law, the capacity necessary to execute estate planning documents including wills, trusts and powers of attorney requires generally that the individual has the mental capacity to comprehend the nature, extent and state of affairs of his or her property, an understanding of his or her relationship to persons who are or might naturally be expected to be the objects of his or her bounty, and that the individual understands the scope and general effect of the provisions of his or her estate planning documents. While it is entirely possible for an individual who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to maintain this capacity during moments of lucidity, it is always best to have an estate plan in place well before his or her mental capacity has been called into question.
Without a comprehensive estate plan in place, once it has been determined that a person is mentally incapacitated, a court proceeding known as guardianship or “living probate” will most likely become necessary. In my experience, it is best for your family to avoid court proceedings whenever possible –which is easy to do through advanced planning with the help of a qualified estate planning attorney.
If you are interested in exploring your own estate planning options, contact us today to set up your free initial consultation!