How to avoid becoming the victim of an abusive guardianship

If you’re one of the many seniors in this country who is getting into their senior years and has no adult children or close family, you may be concerned about what would happen if you become mentally and/or physically incapacitated and unable to care or even speak for yourself.

You may have heard horror stories about judges ordering a guardianship for a senior deemed to be incapacitated and assigning a person with little or no relationship to them as their guardian. Unfortunately, these court-ordered guardianships sometimes result in the theft of a person’s assets and even, in some cases, physical and other types of abuse.

There are steps you can take now to avoid this scenario from playing out and protect yourself from an abusive guardianship. Let’s look at a few.

Give someone durable POA over your finances

A durable power of attorney (POA) takes effect only if you become incapacitated. You can give this to someone you know and trust, like a close friend. You can specify what types of financial transactions they are allowed to initiate. This will help ensure that your assets aren’t at risk if you are no longer capable of handling them.

It’s wise to give another person the authority to approve or deny large transactions, like the sale of your home or account closures. This adds an extra layer of security.

Make someone your health care agent and put an advance directive in place

By naming someone as your health care agent, you give them authority to talk with your doctors and make medical decisions for you if you can’t speak for yourself. You should also put an advance directive in place detailing your wishes for things like end-of-life care. Your agent and medical team have an obligation to follow those wishes as closely as possible.

Final points

It’s crucial to talk with anyone you choose for these important roles (including alternates) and confirm that they’re willing to take on the responsibilities, if necessary. Remember that you can always change your mind and appoint others as long as you have the capacity to do so.

Each situation is highly unique. That’s why it’s essential to have experienced estate planning guidance as you put these and other documents in place.