Compile a list of uncomfortable hot button topics, and no doubt health and money would be near the top of the list. Combine the two and it’s suddenly clear why so many people fail to lay the groundwork for financial planning in the event of incapacity. After all, who wants to address the difficult realities of old age or debilitating illness, particularly as it relates to finances?

But as the oldest members of the outsized Baby Boomer generation begin turning 70 years old, a large percentage of the population will now be faced with these issues.

As hard as it is to swallow, old age can rob one of hard-won independence. And at some point in time, we’ll all be faced with the reality that we’re unable or unfit to make important calls about finances and medical care.

Too often, though, these topics go unaddressed. In a survey conducted by The Family Caregiver Alliance, 81% of respondents said they think about incapacity issues, but only 33% had acted on them. So what prevents many of us from preparing for outcomes that, intellectually, we know we’re all going to face?

Facing the Fear of Planning

“It's painful for people to confront the limits of their own mortality," says Thomas Mierswa, an Executive Director in Morgan Stanley's Legal and Compliance division. For the most part, we recoil at the thought of ceding control to the debilitating forces of old age, so we choose not to plan for it.

Another reason for delay is what’s has been dubbed “the positivity effect." 

“People begin to enjoy their retirement—their 'Golden Years'—and they want everything to be perfect. They don't want to recognize unpleasantness," Mierswa explains. “They're enjoying themselves, but as they're faced with the onset of physical and mental limitations they begin to feel it all slipping away, and they don't want to address it. It holds true whether facing one's own incapacity or that of a parent."

Indeed, for today's Boomers, denial applies not only to themselves but to their parents as well. “They tend to think they have all the time in the world," says Mierswa, “and they think it will never happen to them, and they will never be like their parents."

It's a Matter of Planning—and Paperwork

Preparing for incapacity boils down to having the right documents in place that address the need to handle future financial and medical matters if your ability to do so deteriorates.

More simply, it's about identifying people you trust—while you are still able—who can make decisions for you.

According to Rocco Procopio, Head of Field Compliance for Morgan Stanley's Wealth Management business, one tool an advisor can use is an Account Disclosure and Authorized Person Form, through which a client identifies a person or persons who may be contacted if the client displays certain behavior that indicates decreased capacity for making important decisions.

The Account Disclosure and Authorized Person Form authorizes us as your financial advisor to discuss your account with someone you trust. The disclosure form does not authorize us to act on your behalf, though. That requires designating a Power of Attorney, which gives your advisor greater ability to work with an authorized person who can take action on your account.

Without these documents in place, we may be unable to act in the event of a severe market event or account-threatening situation. Instead, we will have to wait for the court system to establish legal authority to act on a client's behalf.  Needless to say, such a scenario is less than ideal: “Once we've learned there is incapacity, we have to act cautiously—and oftentimes quickly," Procopio warns.

Take These Steps, Too

Procopio recommends identifying people that you trust to know about your assets and other personal information. And he stresses that planning for incapacity is not entirely about financial assets; it's about planning for an entire estate, as well as for healthcare concerns.

It's equally important to identify someone who knows where all of your vital documentation is located—insurance policies, bank account information, military records, and so on—so that it's easily accessible in a pinch.

Also, once you have identified the key individuals who will manage your assets, make health care decisions and administer documentation, make sure to share this information with key family members. In many cases, family members are hurt or surprised by the choice of a key individual. Sharing this information early helps avoid potential conflicts.

Finally, make sure to have all of your other documents in place, including:

      • A standard will
      • A Revocable Living Trust which is a legal entity created to
         hold ownership of an individual's assets
      • A Medical Power of Attorney for health care decisions
      • A Living Will to state your wishes for end-of-life medical care
      • A HIPAA Authorization so a loved one can view your medical
      • A “Durable” Power of Attorney to allow your chosen
         representative to act in your place for medical care and

Protecting yourself and family from an incapacitating event can be a complex process. We at Morgan Stanley can help further explain all of the steps you should be taking in the event of incapacity. Talk with us today. Don’t wait to get the conversation started on this important topic.