In late February, Luke Perry, who became famous starring in the 1990s TV series Beverly Hills 90210, suffered a massive stroke at age 52. He was hospitalized under heavy sedation, and five days later, when it became clear he wouldn’t recover, his family decided to remove life support. Perry died on March 4th, 2019 surrounded by his two children—21-year-old Jack and 18-year-old Sophie—along with his fiancé, ex-wife, mother, siblings, and others.
Whether or not you were a Luke Perry fan, it’s hard not to be somewhat shocked when someone so young, successful, and seemingly healthy passes away so suddenly. Such situations can make you feel extremely vulnerable and proactively managing your estate planning can help to overcome this feeling.
Planning for incapacity and death
Perry was reportedly inspired to create his own estate plan following a fairly recent health scare. In 2015, after discovering he had precancerous growths during a colonoscopy, Perry created a will, leaving everything to his two children. Since Perry’s estate was worth an estimated $10 million and he was divorced with kids from the first marriage and about to be married again, creating a will was the very least he could do.
But wills are just a small part of the planning equation because they only apply to the distribution of your assets following death and even then, they must go through the court process known as probate for your assets to be distributed. Furthermore, a will only comes into play upon your death, so if you’re ever incapacitated by accident or illness as Perry was, it offers neither you nor your family any protections.
In Perry’s case, he was incapacitated by a stroke and on life support for nearly a week before he died. During this period, the fact Perry had a will was irrelevant because he was still alive. But given how events unfolded, it appears Perry had other planning vehicles in place to prepare for just this situation.
The power over life and death
During the time he was incapacitated, someone was called upon to make crucial medical decisions for Perry’s welfare while his family was summoned to his side. To this end, it’s likely that Perry designated someone to serve as his medical decision-maker by granting them medical power of attorney. He may have also created a living will, which would provide specific instructions to this individual regarding how to make these medical decisions.
Granting medical power of attorney gives the person you name the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. The document that does this is known as an advance healthcare directive and it’s an absolute must-have for every adult over age 18.
Since someone was probably named as medical power of attorney, being taken off life support caused no conflict amongst Perry’s family. Without medical power of attorney, if any of Perry’s family disagreed over how his medical care should be handled the family may have needed a court order to terminate life support. This could have needlessly prolonged the family’s suffering and made his death even more public, costly, and traumatic for those he left behind.
The power over your money
Typically paired with medical power of attorney is financial durable power of attorney. In the event of your incapacity, financial durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that gives the person you choose immediate authority to manage your finances, such as paying your bills, collecting government benefits, and overseeing your bank accounts.
We can’t be sure at this point whether or not Perry put in place durable power of attorney, but since this planning document goes hand-in hand with medical power of attorney, it’s almost certain he did. Now, Perry was only incapacitated for five days before his death, so durable power of attorney may not seem totally necessary in his case. But what if Perry’s incapacity had lasted a lot longer?
Given that Perry could have lingered on life support for months or years, it’s crucial that someone he trusted had the authority to manage his finances during his incapacity. Without durable power of attorney, the court will choose someone to manage your finances and that someone might be a person you wouldn’t want anywhere near your life savings or checkbook. What’s more, that someone could even be a “professional” who gets paid hefty hourly fees to handle things, even if you have family members who want to serve.
Learn from Perry’s example
Perry’s death is a loss to us all, whether you are a fan or not. However, we can see how much he cared about his loved one in the measures he took in his estate plan and you can take a page out of his own book. If you would like to get started on making your plan, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to get educated about the specifics necessary to keep your family out of court and out conflict if and when something happens to you.
We’ll help ensure that in the event of your incapacity, or when you die, your loved ones will have the same protections Perry’s had—and more. Contact us today to attend one of our live educational events or get started with a private Family Wealth Planning Session.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.