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Preserve Personal Autonomy

"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." - James Baldwin

Nothing is more important than preserving your personal autonomy. In Estate Planning circles, preserving personal autonomy refers to incapacity/disability planning. First you must face both your mortality and your vulnerability. Then, you must have documents, in some instances called declarations, in place prior to an accident or injury to save your family unnecessary grief, delays, and costs.

If you are a Louisiana resident and for one reason or another you become unable to manage your affairs, no one can just step in and manage them for you –not even your spouse – without the proper paperwork in order.

If you preplan properly however, you choose the right person to stand in your shoes, handle your affairs, and be your Agent (or Mandatory). If, on the other hand, you fail to preplan properly, somebody must sue you in a court proceeding called an “Interdiction”, prove you are incapacitated, and prove they should be appointed by the Court to stand in your shoes, handle your affairs, and be your Curator.

An Interdiction isn’t that unlike a Succession—it’s a court proceeding so it’s public, it involves court fees and legal fees, and a lot of grief. In fact, the big difference is you’re alive if it’s an Interdiction, and a Succession only takes place after your life.

To avoid the need for an Interdiction, should you become unable to manage your affairs, you must properly execute Powers of Attorney (also known as Mandates) for both medical and financial decisions. Failure to do so, leaves you and your family vulnerable to the delays, costs, and grief associated with Interdictions.

In addition to properly executing a properly drafted Financial Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney, you should consider executing a Living Will Declaration. In a Living Will Declaration, you declare that you do not wish to have your life prolonged artificially. This means that only in a terminal and irreversible situation, in which you are unable to live without machines and/or other life sustaining procedures, you declare that you wish to be allowed to die naturally.

Personal Autonomy is more, however, than just incapacity planning. More generally, preserving your personal autonomy refers to preserving the right to make decisions for yourself. In our county, this human right of self-governance is codified in our Constitution. Despite this, none of us is guaranteed continued and uninterrupted decision making. We are all one unfortunate situation away from being unable to manage our affairs. Don’t leave decision making – particularly life and death decision making—to others or to chance. Decide for yourself and give those decisions their due solemnity. Speak with a professional estate planning specialist, then execute documents to make your decisions binding.