By Albert Northrop
Help me out here. I know I’ve been writing articles for this publication for a few months now, but I can’t seem to recall what they were about. It seems to me that I was writing about things that have to do with estate and money concerns as we get older. It’s right on the tip of my tongue, but at the moment I just can’t remember. I had it just a minute ago.
Sound familiar? Have you heard this sort of thing recently? Have you found yourself saying it? It’s no secret that we lose a little bit of our memory every day as we get older, especially short-term memory. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s just a fact of life.
But let’s say that you or someone close to you neglected to prepare that power of attorney I suggested a couple of months ago. And let’s say that that person close to you, perhaps an elderly parent, is getting forgetful to the point that some rather important matters are left unattended. The mortgage doesn’t get paid or the electric bill check doesn’t get mailed. If it happens once or twice, no great harm is done. If it becomes chronic and the electricity gets turned off in the middle of January, then there could be some severe consequences. The question becomes, how do we handle the affairs of an elderly or disabled person who can no longer care for themselves in their daily affairs and who hasn’t, can’t or won’t execute a power of attorney to allow someone else to take care of things?
The answer is to obtain a guardianship of the property of another. A person with let’s say an “interest” in another person, usually a close family member, files a petition for guardianship in the Circuit Court for the county in which the “ward” or elderly person resides. It will require the certificate of two physicians who must attest to the fact that the elderly or disabled person is unable or incapable of taking care of their own affairs. The court will appoint an attorney to represent the interest of the elderly person for the purposes of the pending petition. The case, if contested, may be heard by a jury if one is requested. The standard of proof is clear and convincing evidence, a higher standard of proof than proof by a preponderance of the evidence.
In most cases the attorney appointed by the court will speak to the alleged incompetent and will review the physician certifications and any other evidence. If it appears that everything is in order and in fact the alleged incompetent does not object, the case will proceed in an uncontested manner. The petitioner, or where appropriate, someone chosen by the court, will be appointed as guardian of the property of the elderly incompetent. That guardian will receive income, Social Security, pension money, etc., for the ward and then pay the bills when they become due. They will make an annual accounting to the court. If it is a family member, their services are usually gratuitous. If it is a court appointed guardian, usually an attorney, they will be paid a reasonable fee for their services.
So what was it I was trying to remember? What does come to mind is the couple in their mid-90s who were celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary with a party. A reporter from the local paper was there to report on the event. He noticed that the elderly gentleman always referred to his bride of three quarters of a century with terms of endearment such as “sweetheart, lovey, dear, honey buttons, sweet love” and the like. In time he pulled the gentleman aside and inquired: “I notice that you always refer to your wife in endearing terms. Do you think that is the secret to your long marriage?” The gentleman replied “To tell you the truth, I forgot her name about 10 years ago and I’m too afraid to ask the old witch what it is.”