Mistakes That Can Ruin Even a Great Estate Plan: Part II
By Peter E. Grosskopf
This article is in a continuing series about common problems or issues that arise in the context of Estate Planning.
In this article, I want to discuss two common, related problems that occur far more frequently than they should. This is the use or misuse of the Wisconsin Statutory Health Care Power of Attorney and Durable Power of Attorney for finances.
From the attorney’s perspective, what often will happen is that we will meet with client, go through a thorough estate analysis, raise questions and get answers regarding the individual or couple’s choice of agents under both Health Care Power of Attorney as well as the Financial Power of Attorney. Sometimes these discussions can be fairly brief, but in many cases, it can be quite thorough.
At the conclusion and as part of the estate planning process, we draft the Health Care Power of Attorney and Financial Power of Attorney, send it to the client to review; they approve it, and eventually come back to the office to sign and finalize. We will then take care of contacting the agents, to make sure they are aware that they have been named as agents, have them sign the proper forms acknowledging that they are aware that they are agents, and proceed to finish the Estate Plan.
However, we later find that in an emergency, or sometimes not even in an emergency, the client winds up in a doctor’s office or the hospital and some well-meaning assistant, social worker, nurse, etc., will thrust a Health Care Power of Attorney in front of the individual, and say let’s fill this out and sign here. The client does.
What they have unwittingly done is revoke the Health Care Power of Attorney that was painstakingly produced at the attorney’s office. They may have different choices of agents and more commonly than not, they leave large blanks in the document, because they never discussed this.
Even worse, with the Statutory Financial Power of Attorney, much the same thing can happen. Except now it is not at a hospital or clinic, but rather at the insurance agent’s office or a financial advisor, possibly a bank, and someone produces the blank Wisconsin Statutory Power of Attorney, and again it gets quickly signed and unwittingly revokes the one produced at the attorney’s office.
To make this even worse, in my own opinion, the Statutory Financial Power of Attorney in Wisconsin is largely a useless document, because I have seen far too many cases where third parties, such as banks, insurance companies, or other financial institutions, will not accept the Wisconsin Statutory Power of Attorney, and now you have a document that is worthless, except that it revoked the earlier one which likely would have worked.
Then, as if this were not bad enough, sometimes these freely available Statutory Financial Powers of Attorney are used by unscrupulous individuals, who will have a parent who may be vulnerable to influence or threats or intimidation, where they sign such a document, authorizing the unscrupulous person to have access to their accounts, or even to gift money in the accounts to themselves. If you think it doesn’t happen here, you are wrong. There have been numerous cases right here in the Chippewa Valley where elderly folks have been cheated out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by unscrupulous agents who employ these same tactics.