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Power of attorney documents come into play in death of car legend

Michigan residents love cars, especially in the Detroit area. That is why many people were saddened by the death of Carroll Shelby on May 10. Shelby was responsible for some of the most iconic American muscle car designs and engines, and the Ford Mustang Shelby remains one of the most venerated cars to ever come out of Detroit. Shelby died at the age of 89 in Dallas, and unfortunately his body remains there at the medical examiner's office while his family members dispute over how his burial will proceed.

The fight is between Shelby's wife and children, with both sides claiming that different wishes were expressed to them by Shelby before his death. His wife, who resides in California, has asserted that Shelby signed a power of attorney two years ago that would authorize her to handle his affairs. Shelby's children, however, claim that he expressly directed in a document signed in February that his remains be cremated, with the ashes then being divided between his children and a burial plot.

Shelby's wife specifically claims that her husband intended to give her the power of a "primary health care agent," which in Michigan is referred to either as a medical power of attorney or health care power of attorney. This kind of power of attorney can be critical to an estate plan because it names a person as a "patient advocate." That means the advocate can make decisions on behalf of the patient should that person become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions.

In Shelby's case, both sides are surely looking to end the conflict as soon as possible. Families in Michigan who are going through a similar dispute should be aware of their own fiduciary rights and responsibilities. These matters are not always cut and dry when estate planning documents contradict one another, and a fluency in Michigan's probate law may prove indispensible for an equitable and peaceful resolution.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Shelby's family fights in court over his burial wishes," Nomaan Merchant, June 20, 2012

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