Mom’s Dying: How Do I get her Affairs in Order?

Please accept our sympathy even as we recognize your need for plan language. Although this is a difficult time, it is mom’s last chance to straighten out her affairs and there are some things that she may need to do.

During mom’s remaining lifetime, she may need other people to help her with her affairs. Legal authority to act on behalf of another is conveyed through a durable power of attorney. If mom still has legal capacity, she can give power of attorney to a trustworthy family member or friend. A power of attorney can be used to sign contracts, pay bills and manage assets. A power of attorney can be best obtained from mom’s lawyer; however, a Steven-Ness Durable Power of Attorney Form can be a reasonable alternative under some circumstances. If mom does not have capacity and authority to act is needed, a guardianship or conservatorship may be required.

Second, mom should consider formalizing her medical wishes in an advanced directive and possibly a POLST form. An advanced directive is an Oregon statewide form which names a person to make healthcare decisions only when mom is unable to communicate with her doctor. This person is mom’s healthcare agent. The advanced directive also states mom’s wishes regarding life support. The advanced directive is usually obtained at a doctor’s or lawyer’s office or can be found at the secretary of state’s website https://www.oregon.gov/DCBS/shiba/Documents/advance_directive_form.pdf.

A POLST is a physician’s order for life sustaining treatment- colloquially referred to as a DNR, a ‘do not resuscitate order’. This is obtain directly from mom’s doctor and is typically used only when there is a serious illness.

Mom may also wish to understand what will happen to her assets when she is gone. It is a good idea to check in with mom’s attorney soon to make sure her estate plan is functioning properly.  If mom has named a joint owner on her bank account, has made a pay-on-death (POD) designation on a bank account, or has named a beneficiary on an IRA or life insurance policy, then it is important to know that the asset will go to the person named regardless of what mom’s will or trust may say. Only assets without such designations will pass according to mom’s will or trust. If mom does not have a will and dies with assets in her name alone with no beneficiary, then those assets will pass to the beneficiaries via probate. Similarly, keep in mind, all wills also go through probate. If mom wants to avoid probate, she may want to consider a trust.

Please keep I mind that this is very general advise only. To understand the specifics of mom’s situation, it is a good idea to speak with an attorney and identify issues before they become problems.

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