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What Beauty Looks Like

By Attorney Katherine S. Breckenridge, Esq.

Published May 10, 2018 – Culpeper Times

Estate Planning: Power of Attorney : Incapacitation

Her pace had noticeably slowed over the course of our meetings. The ravages of cognitive challenges evident – in the mobility restrictions, as husband’s gentle support aided her to the couch in my reception area, in the desire to re-read sections of documents, as husband kindly and patiently sought to make sure she considered all possibilities, and in the decrease in verbal communications, as a look from her to him confirming her words and desires.

Often, when writing joint estate plans for a couple who has been married for many decades, a beauty beyond measure is exhibited as part of the love language. “It brings me such happiness to know she is going to be in the room when I walk in. It is her presence that makes our house a home.” And, she responds, “I give him ‘the look;’ he knows what I mean.”

There is a cadence and complimentary reliance that is so poignant it is easy to believe that passing thru this realm is just a temporary journey, and surely the two will be together in eternity.

Woven into our discussion of who should be named as agents under their powers of attorney, was the raw conversation of what if the husband or the wife was no longer able to take care of the other. Talking about estate planning matters can often bring unexpected emotions to the surface that are usually challenging to face, such as addressing issues of care and quality of life, and the use and distribution of assets.

The tears did surface. The enormity of and finality marked by the issues seemed overwhelming. The response of gentle kindness was beautiful. The tender touch from husband to wife, “Do you understand? Let’s talk thru this. I hope I am always here to care for you. I have done the best to plan, but if I am not, who would you trust?”

The Code of Virginia in § 64.2-1600 et seq., sets forth one approach, the principal granting authority to an agent, to help maintain the quality of life of the principal in what could rightfully be considered legal poetry, through the establishment of a power of attorney.

When one reaches eighteen years of age and realizes her parents are no longer able to make legally binding decisions for her, or is like my client who realized if she becomes mentally incapacitated and unable to make decisions for herself, taking action to put in place a plan for one’s care is prudent. In addition to other protective estate planning documents, neither the eighteen-year old, nor the senior adult had executed a power of attorney, making the exposure to plans and control that did not meet the intent of either fairly broad.

It was during our discussion of the structures of a power of attorney: the principal – the person giving agency, the primary agent and successor agents – those to whom the principal entrusts decisions about subject areas such as finances, care, legal matters, and whether the document should be effective upon signing or upon incapacitation, that the deep love and commitment between husband and wife was evident.

The husband emotionally shared, “It has always been my goal to make sure she was provided for; I would want her to have a greater portion of any money I earned. She is my world. She gave me children . . . How can I ever repay that?”

Each meeting with this precious couple left me in awe of the strength they found in their unit. In the midst of facing the challenges of aging, this husband celebrated the beauty of his wife.

Proverbs 31:25 (KJV) shares, “Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.” Perhaps this also means she shall have no fear of the time to come, that her eternal future is known. Her husband’s encouragement of sound planning visibly provided relief to his wife that the “here and now” is also secure.

Estate planning documents that reflect the beauty of a relationship . . . I say, “In this case, yes!” A husband recognizing the beauty of motherhood, the loveliness in his aging bride, and the desire to make sure she has protective, estate planning documents in place, seems an appropriate tribute that this Sunday and every day is Mother’s Day.