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The Reality of Incapacity Planning: A Lesson from Jay Leno's Conservatorship Filing

Posted by Steve Worrall | Jan 31, 2024

The recent news that Jay Leno has filed for conservatorship over his wife's estate is more than just celebrity gossip—it's a stark reminder of an often-misunderstood aspect of estate planning. After 43 years of marriage, one would assume that Leno had every legal safeguard in place. Yet, this development reveals a critical oversight that can affect any couple, regardless of fame or financial status. 

Estate Planning: It's More Than Wills and Inheritance 

Traditionally, estate planning brings up thoughts of wills, trusts, and discussions about who inherits what. These are undoubtedly important, but there's another side to the story—the potential for incapacity. Life is unpredictable. Accidents, illnesses, or progressive conditions like dementia can render us unable to make decisions or communicate our wishes. That's when the true test of an estate plan comes into play. 

The Spousal Assumption 

There's a widespread assumption that marriage grants spouses the ability to automatically make decisions for each other. This myth is pervasive, yet the legal system tells a different story. Strict privacy and healthcare laws mean that without explicit legal permissions, such as a Power of Attorney or a healthcare directive, a spouse's hands may be tied, leaving them unable to manage finances, make medical decisions, or even get information from doctors. 

The Costly Path of Conservatorship 

Without proper documentation, the only recourse may be to seek a conservatorship, where a court appoints someone to oversee the incapacitated person's affairs. It's a route fraught with challenges: it is time-consuming, can be quite expensive, and throws open what are very personal matters to the public eye. 

How to Protect Your Voice and Your Choices 

The key to maintaining control is preparation. Here are the documents that every adult should consider: 

-        Durable Power of Attorney: This allows you to appoint a trusted individual to handle your financial affairs if you cannot do so yourself.

-        Healthcare Power of Attorney: It enables you to designate someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in case you're incapacitated.

-        Living Will: This document spells out your wishes regarding medical treatment, including life support and other critical decisions. 

The Role of Trusts 

A Revocable Living Trust can also play a pivotal role. By creating a trust, you not only plan for the distribution of your assets after your passing but also ensure that someone you trust can manage your affairs without court intervention if you're not able to during your life. 

Educate, Communicate, Update 

Creating these documents is just the first step. Educate the people you've appointed about their roles and your wishes. Keep the lines of communication open and review these documents regularly to ensure they reflect your current circumstances and wishes. 

Final Thoughts 

Jay Leno's situation is a lesson for us all, highlighting the need for comprehensive estate planning that anticipates not just death, but also life's unexpected turns. It emphasizes the importance of preparing for situations where we might not be able to speak for ourselves. 

For those ready to take the next step, or if you've realized there's a missing piece in your estate plan, our Marietta estate planning lawyers are here to guide you. Ensuring your estate plan is complete and up-to-date is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the uncertainties of the future. Please feel free to contact the office at 770-425-6060 if you need assistance getting started.

About the Author

Steve Worrall

As a sandwich generation kid himself (caring for both children and aging parents), Marietta Georgia Estate Planning Elder Law & Probate Attorney Steve (Stephen M.) Worrall KNOWS the struggles you are facing as you raise children, balance the demands of your job, and take care of your aging parent...