Few Americans plan for their guardianship

James and Imogene Hegner are making some vital preparations for their future and for the future of their five grown daughters.

"I think it's easier to go ahead and do it before a crisis arises," says Imogene Hegner.

The Hegners are trying to protect what they worked hard to build. With an attorney's help they've spelled out how they want to be cared for as they grow old and possibly unable to make decisions.

"That's what we wanted to do and give our children the benefit of having that sort of thing settled before the time came and it became a burden," says James Hegner.

Experts say it's an issue more and more people are facing. By the year 2010, 32 percent of the population will be over the age of 50.

"Anybody in their late 40's and on should be concerned about planning for what the rest of their life will hold," says Frank Johns with the Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

To plan ahead, experts say consider these options in case you become incapacitated:

  • A living will to specify how you wish to cared for;
  • A health care power of attorney to designate someone to oversee your needs;
  • A representative to manage your Social Security check and other financial issues;
  • An estate trust (if necessary) to manage your assets and deal with taxes.

Costs for this kind of planning can range from $300 to $10,000 depending on what your assets are. Experts say it's money well spent, because without a plan the courts could step in and appoint a guardian — possibly a stranger — to take charge of your life and your money.

82-year-old Abelardo Schaffino did not plan ahead. When accusations surfaced that a caretaker was exploiting him for money, his son Richard had to hire lawyers to petition the court for guardianship of his father's estate.

"In lawyer fees, I maybe owe $30,000," says Richard. "I don't make that in a year."

But instead of giving Richard control, the courts named its own guardians.

As for James and Imogene Hegner, they're taking control of their lives now — mapping out their future so their children won't have to.