What Estate Planning Documents Does My Child Need Now That She’s an Adult?

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Your child may graduate from high school and head off to college or start a full-time job or vocational training program.

Although they’re still your children, the law sees them as are adults. As a result, parents’ “rights” to protect their adult children or make decisions for them immediately becomes quite limited. This remains the same, even if they have moved back home with you during California’s Stay at Home orders.

The Tewksbury Town Crier’s recent article, “Is your child turning 18? Here’s what you need to know,” explains that people often have an estate planning attorney draft the appropriate documents, so they will be legal and binding. Let’s look at a list of documents to consider and discuss with your young adult:

  • HIPAA Authorization: if your 18-year-old has a job in another state or will be attending college and needs medical records or assistance making appointments, ask them to go to the doctor’s and dentist’s office and sign forms that designate agents to act on their behalf. Due to HIPAA laws, information can’t be released without the adult child’s permission.
  • Healthcare Proxy: Have your 18-year old complete this document, make a copy, put a copy on each parent or guardian’s phone and put a copy on your child’s phone. This is for an emergency, like when the child can’t speak for themself. However, don’t wait for an emergency. If your child is at college, the school will only contact you as the emergency contact, but the proxy is between you and the hospital and includes mental health issues. A healthcare proxy lets you to participate in life and death decisions, should your child not be able to advocate for herself.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: A general durable power of attorney or financial power of attorney must also be signed by the 18-year old, designating their parents, guardians, or others as agents authorized to act on their behalf. This allows the agent access to financial information so that they can participate in the financial issues with a university or business in the event that the child cannot.
  • FERPA: This is an educational records release, which allows the educational institution to share grades, transcripts and other related materials with parents or designated agents. Without it, the school will not provide you with access to any information.

Finally, encourage your young adult family member to register to vote.

Reference: Tewksbury Town Crier (December 8, 2019) “Is your child turning 18? Here’s what you need to know”

How to Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

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Estate planning is a critical part of financial planning, but it is something that many Americans prefer to procrastinate about. However, drafting a will, health care proxy, and power of attorney are too important to leave to chance, says Next Avenue in the article “How to Find a Good Estate Planner.” An experienced estate planning attorney can help prevent critical mistakes and help you adjust your plan as circumstances change.

Here are a few tips:

Look for an estate planning attorney. This is not the same as a real estate attorney. An attorney who practices real estate law is not going to be up to date on all of the latest changes to estate and tax laws. You should also determine if the attorney deals with families who are in similar situations as yours. An attorney who works with family-owned businesses, for instance, will be more helpful in creating an estate plan that includes tax and succession planning for small business owners, whereas an attorney who works with special needs trusts will be more informed on drafting those.

Experience matters in this area of the law. The laws of your state are just one of the many parts that the attorney needs to know by heart. The estate planning attorney who has been practicing for many years will have a better sense of how families work, what problems crop up when it comes time to execute these plans, and tips on how to avoid them.

Ask about costs. Don’t be shy. You want to be clear from the start what you should expect to be spending on an estate plan. The attorney should be comfortable having this discussion with you and your spouse or family member. Remember that the attorney will be able to understand the scope of work only after they speak with you about your situation. What may seem simple to you, may be more complicated than you think.

If a trust is added, the fees are likely to increase. A trust can be used to avoid or minimize estate taxes, avoid probate, save on time and court fees and create conditions for the distribution of assets after you die.

A full plan includes incapacity documents. Don’t neglect to have the attorney create a Power of Attorney form and any other advance directives you need. These vary by state, and you don’t want them to get too old, or they may become out of date.

Recognize that this is an ongoing relationship. Make sure that you are comfortable with the attorney, how the practice is run and the people who work there—receptionist, paralegals and other associates at the firm are all people you may be working with at one point or another during the process. You will be sharing very personal information with the entire team, so be sure it’s a good fit.

This is not a one-and-done event. Having an estate plan is a lot like having a home—it requires maintenance. Every four years or so, or when large events occur in your life, you’ll need to have your estate plan reviewed.

Your estate planning attorney should become a trusted advisor who works hand in hand with your accountant and financial advisor. Together, they should all be looking out for you and your family.

Reference: Next Avenue (September 10, 2019) “How to Find a Good Estate Planner”

How to Decide Who Your Healthcare Proxy Should Be

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It’s especially important to name a healthcare proxy, because the chances of having a crisis escalates dramatically as we age. That’s why so many people put off naming a healthcare proxy, says Forbes in the article “How to Select A Healthcare Proxy,” often only addressing this, when they are completing other documents for their overall estate plan.

What usually happens is that people get so stressed out about naming a healthcare proxy that they put it off or make a bad selection. Making it even worse, is neglecting to tell the person they have chosen for this important responsibility.

It’s not guaranteed that the person you chose as your healthcare proxy will ever be called on to serve. However, if they are, you’ll want to make sure they meet certain guidelines. For one thing, they’ll need to be at least 18 years old. They cannot be your direct health care provider or any of the direct health care provider’s employees, unless that person is also your spouse. They have to be willing to speak up and adhere to your own wishes, even if those wishes are not the same as their own. You’ll want to have a very candid conversation with the person you think you want to name as your healthcare proxy.

You might want to go through this exercise to make sure they are really willing to carry out your wishes. Create a worksheet that describes in detail some of the situations they may face. There are a few sources for this kind of worksheet, including one from a group called Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit centered on helping people get what they want at the end of their lives.

If you are close with your family, it may seem obvious to select your spouse, first-born child, or a sibling for this task. However, be realistic: when push comes to shove, will they be able to stand up for your wishes? Will they be able to deal with the fallout from family members, who may not agree with what you want at the end of your life? They’ll need to be up to the challenge.

Age is a real factor here. You want your proxy to be available in both the immediate and distant future. If you have a sibling who is only two years younger than you, she’ll be 84 when you are 86. That may not be the time for her to make hard decisions, or she may not be available—or alive. Select a few backups, and make sure the primary, secondary and even tertiary are listed on your advance directive.

Geography also matters. The person may be called upon in a crisis—if you are on the West Coast and they are in the Midwest, will they be able to get to your bedside in time? Many hospitals and skilled nursing facilities require a live human being to be physically present, if critical care decisions need to be made. Someone who lives within a 50-mile radius of you, might be a better choice.

Once you’ve made the decision, you’re almost done. Have a conversation with the person, whether they are the primary or a backup. You should also have a conversation with your estate planning attorney, to make sure that your healthcare directive and any related documents are all set for your future.

Reference: Forbes (April 10, 2019) “How to Select A Healthcare Proxy”