Get a Medical Power of Attorney Now

  • Post Author:

If you have not yet named someone with Medical Power of Attorney, stop procrastinating and get this crucial planning in place now.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney (also known as an Advance Healthcare Directive) is a legal document you use to give someone else the authority to make medical decisions for you when you can no longer make them yourself.  This person, also known as an agent, can only exercise this power if your doctor says you are unable to make key decisions yourself.

Other Terms for Medical Power of Attorney

Depending on the state where you live, the medical power of attorney may be called something else. You may have seen this referred to as a health care power of attorney, an advance directive, advance health care directive, a durable power of attorney for health care, etc. There are many variations, but they all mean fundamentally the same thing.

Be aware that each state has its own laws about medical powers of attorney, so it’s important to work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure your decisions will be enforced through legally binding documents. Also, some states may not honor documents from other states, so even if you made these decisions and created documents in another state, it’s wise to review with an estate attorney to ensure they are legally valid in your state now.

What Can My Medical Agent Do for Me?

Just like there are many different terms for the medical power of attorney, there also are different terms for the medical agent – this person may be referred to as an attorney-in-fact, a health proxy, or surrogate.

Some of the things a medical POA authorizes your agent to decide for you:

  • Which doctors or facilities to work with and whether to change doctors
  • Give consent for additional testing or treatment
  • How aggressively to treat
  • Whether to disconnect life support

We are ready to help walk you through these decisions, understand the ramifications of your choices, and memorialize your plans in binding legal documents. We are currently offering no-contact initial conferences remotely if you prefer. Book a call now and let us help you make the right choices for yourself and your loved ones.

Why Is a Power of Attorney Important?

  • Post Author:

A son who is preparing to help his mother with her legal and financial affairs asks what legal documents he needs to obtain in the article “Tips for becoming a power of attorney” in Hometown Life. He is concerned about a sibling who is estranged from the family and could cause problems in the future. Can he protect his mother and himself?

The first thing he needs to do is obtain a medical power of attorney and a durable power of attorney for his mother. These are two separate powers of attorney that will give the son the legal right to handle both her financial affairs and her medical care.

With these documents, he will be able to speak directly to her healthcare providers, including her doctors, and to make end-of-life decisions on her behalf. An unhappy family member could indeed cause problems, especially when it comes to major decisions. When medical staff and institutions see fighting in the family, they will not act unless they see a legal document granting authority to make these decisions.

The durable power of attorney, in contrast, is created for legal or financial issues, including handling the mother’s day-to-day money tasks and making decisions about her investments and assets, including the family home. With a power of attorney, he will be able to move money when needed, and even assist with selling assets or stocks, if necessary.

Having both of these documents gives the son the ability to do what is necessary for his mother, while also protecting him from an uncooperative family member. However, there are more tasks to be done.

First, he needs to find out if she has an estate plan, including a will, a trust or even any other powers of attorney. He should find out if they are current, and if they still reflect her wishes.

If she has an estate plan, he’ll need to find out when it was last updated and see if it needs to be revised. If there are no documents, or existing documents need to be updated, she needs to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a plan to distribute assets according to her wishes and create any needed trusts.

He should also collect her medical information, so he knows who her doctors are and what medications she is taking. He also needs to understand her medical insurance coverage and see if she has the protection that she needs from health care costs.

For her financial affairs, the son needs to gather up information about her accounts, including passwords and login information. The mother should add the son as a signatory to her bank and brokerage accounts.

He should also get the names and contact information of any financial professionals she works with. That includes financial advisors, insurance agents and CPAs. It would also be wise to get the last two years of her tax returns. This could be invaluable in helping to understand her assets.

Reference: Hometown Life (Dec. 6, 2019) “Tips for becoming a power of attorney”

Estate Planning Documents for a Natural Ending

  • Post Author:

If you have strong preferences on how you want the end of your life to go and you wish to have at least some control your demise, there are a handful of documents that are typically created during the process of developing an estate plan that can be used to achieve this goal, says the article “Choosing a natural end” from The Dallas Morning News.

The four documents are the Medical Power of Attorney, the Directive to Physicians, the Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate, and the In-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate. Note that every state has slightly different estate planning laws. Therefore, you will want to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state. If you spend a lot of time in another state, you may need to have a duplicate set of documents created. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help.

The Medical Power of Attorney, also known as the Advance Health Care Directive, allows you to appoint an agent to make health care decisions if you are unable to do so for yourself. These decisions may include turning off any life-support systems and refusing life-sustaining treatment. Talk with the person you want to take on this role and make sure they understand your wishes and are willing and able to carry them out. You have the right to change your agent and your wishes at any time.

The Directive to Physicians is a way for you to let physicians know what you want for comfort care and any life-sustaining treatment in the event you receive a diagnosis of a terminal or irreversible health condition. You aren’t required to have this, but it is a good way to convey your wishes to a neutral professional in a situation that is usually very emotionally charged among family and friends. The directive does not always have to be the one created by the facility where you are being treated, and it may be customized to your wishes, as long as they are within the bounds of law. Many people will execute a basic directive with their estate planning documents, and then have a more detailed directive created when they have a health crisis.

The Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) forms come in two different forms in most states. Unlike the Directive to Physicians, the DNR must be signed by your attending physician. The Out-of-Hospital DNR is a legally binding order that documents your wishes to health care professionals acting outside of a hospital setting not to initiate or continue CPR, advanced airway management, artificial ventilation, defibrillation or transcutaneous cardiac pacing. You need to sign this form, but if you are not competent to do so, a proxy or health care agent can sign it.

The In-Hospital DNR instructs a health care professional not to attempt CPR if your breathing or heart stops. It is issued in a health care facility or hospital and does not require your signature. However, the physician does have to inform you or make a good faith effort to inform a proxy or agent of the order.

If you would prefer not to spend your final days or hours hooked up to medical machinery, speak with your estate planning attorney about how to legally prepare so that your wishes can be protected and followed.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (Jan. 12, 2020) “Choosing a natural end”

Start the New Year with Estate Planning To-Do’s

  • Post Author:

Families who wish their loved ones had not created an estate plan are far and few between. However, the number of families who have had to experience extra pain, unnecessary expenses, and even family battles because of a lack of estate planning are many. While there are a number of aspects to an estate plan that takes some time to accomplish, The Daily Sentinel recommends that readers tackle these tasks in the article “Consider These Items As Part of Your Year-End Plan.”

Review and update any beneficiary designations. This is one of the simplest parts of any estate plan to fix. Most people think that what’s in their will controls how all of their assets are distributed, but this is not true. Accounts with beneficiary designations—like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and some bank accounts—are controlled by the beneficiary designation and not the will.

Proceeds from these assets are based on the instructions you have given to the institution, and not what your will or a trust directs. This is also true for real estate that is held in JTWROS (Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship) and any real property transferred through the use of a beneficiary deed. The start of a new year is the time to make sure that any assets with a beneficiary designation are aligned with your estate plan. Request a copy of your beneficiary designations from the institutions that administer your plans, and make changes if needed.

Take some time to speak with the people you have named as your agent, personal representative or successor trustee. These people will be managing all or a portion of your estate. Make sure they remember that they agreed to take on this responsibility. Make sure they have a copy of any relevant documents and ask if they have any questions.

Locate your original estate planning documents. When was the last time they were reviewed? New laws, and most recently the SECURE Act, may require a revision of many estate plans, especially if you own a large IRA. You’ll also want to let your executor know where your original will can be found. The probate court, which will review your will, prefers an original. A will can be probated without the original, but there will be more costs involved and it may require a few additional steps. Your will should be kept in a secure, fire and water-safe location. If you keep copies at home, make a note on the document as to where the original can be found.

Create an inventory of your online accounts and login data for each one. Many people open a new online account on a regular basis, so it is important to keep track of the login information. That should include email, personal photos, social media, and any financial accounts. This information also needs to be stored in a safe place. Your estate planning document file would be the logical place for this information but remember to update it when changing any information, like your password.

If you have a medical power of attorney and advance directive, ask your primary care physician if they have a means of keeping these documents, and explain how you wish the instructions on the documents to be carried out. If you don’t have these documents, make them part of your estate plan review process.

A cover letter to your executor and family that contains complete contact information for the various professionals—legal, financial, and medical—will help them know who your trusted professional team is in the case of an unexpected event.

Remember that life is always changing, and the same estate plan that worked so well ten years ago may be out of date now. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state who can help you create a plan to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Dec. 28, 2019) “Consider These Items As Part of Your Year-End Plan”

The Conversation with Your Doctor, Estate Planning Lawyer and Family Members

  • Post Author:

Everyone needs to have an annual checkup, taking stock of their health with their primary doctor. The annual check is also a good time to make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to instructions for health care and an advanced healthcare directive, also known as a living will. When people sign their last will and testament, everyone breathes a big sigh, says The Huntsville Item’s article “Make sure you talk to your doctor and family.” But that’s not the end of estate planning.

Your primary care doctor needs to know what your wishes are, as well as your spouse and children. The best way to make sure they have this information, in addition to having a conversation, is to bring a copy of an advanced healthcare directive or living will with you to your next check up and talk with your doctor about it. Ask them to keep a copy on file.

It’s a good idea to give a copy of documents such as the Medical Power of Attorney and Medical Directive to Physicians and Family to each primary care doctor, and a copy to the healthcare agents you have selected.  Don’t forget to keep a copy or two in your records to take with you if you ever have to go to the hospital.

The signed original should be kept with all of your estate planning documents—in a safe place in your home, possibly in a fireproof safe. Make sure to tell a few family members where these original documents are, in case of an emergency.

The hardest part of estate planning is not usually picking the right fiduciaries or deciding how to distribute assets among loved ones. The hardest part is almost always having these conversations with family and loved ones.

It can be so daunting that families often don’t have these important discussions. Here’s the problem: avoiding the conversation doesn’t mean the issues go away. More family infighting takes place after a death than any other time. Emotions are running high, old wounds are opened, and unresolved issues, especially between siblings, come pouring out. If the parent who has died has always been the one who made peace between everyone, that buffer is now gone.

Having this discussion in a low-pressure, non-emergency time is something that every parent should do for their children. Consider a family gathering where the underlying agenda is to get everyone comfortable with the concept of talking about what the future holds. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting; a casual family get-together is likely more comfortable for everyone.

If the conversations are taking place in a casual manner over an extended period of time, a lot of ground can be covered with less tension and stress. Once you get people used to the idea that you know that you are not going to live forever, it’s easier for everyone because you have now told them you want to be sure they are taken care of.

In some families, these conversations begin when all are invited to attend a family meeting with the estate planning attorney to discuss wills, financial powers of attorney, and medical powers of attorney. Sometimes having this conversation with an experienced professional can take some of the sting out of planning for the future.

Reference: The Huntsville Item (June 30, 2019) “Make sure you talk to your doctor and family”

Graduation Over? Time to Consider Legal Documents

  • Post Author:

It is wonderful to bring up children, make sure they are educated, and see that 18th birthday come along. However, it is important to recognize that many things change from a legal standpoint, according to grbj.com in “Give your graduate the gift of legal documents.”

Before your child turned 18, authorities and institutions automatically deferred to you in case your child could not speak or act for him or herself. This is no longer the case after they turn 18, when you no longer have automatic access to medical, financial, and educational information about your child. In addition, you are no longer authorized to make medical or financial decisions, even if they are injured or incapacitated.

Here are recommended steps to take so parents can still be involved in their children’s lives when they are needed in case of emergency, illness, or incapacity:

In Case of Emergency Contact. Make sure you, or another trusted adult, is listed as an ICE (“in case of emergency”) contact on your child’s cell phone. ICE contacts can be accessed by medical personnel without the password to unlock the phone.

Health care proxy/medical power of attorney. Even if you are the person paying for your children’s health insurance, you are not legally permitted to make decisions for them. Have your newly adult child sign a proxy/power of attorney form for health care designating who has the primary authority to make health decisions if he or she is unable to do so. This is especially important when parents are divorced: both parents need to have the proper forms. Your estate planning attorney will be able to prepare these for you.

HIPAA authorization. Medical providers may not disclose a patient’s medical status unless they have legal permission. Your child should sign a HIPAA authorization with each of their providers, giving the parent access to all their information. This is especially necessary for a child with health or mental issues.

Durable power of attorney. If your child has signed a durable power of attorney for finance, you will be able to handle their financial matters. Even though they are young and may not have a lot of assets, they may have bank accounts, credit cards, and rental leases in their name. In this day and age, you should also add power over digital assets to the power of attorney to cover online accounts for financial institutions, schools, and email accounts.

FERPA waivers. This one takes many parents by surprise. Even if you are the one paying for tuition and all college expenses, the college will not provide academic records, including grades and tuition bills, to the parents without permission due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Contact the college and find out exactly what forms they need to be sure you have access to all of your children’s information, including any health and mental health treatment.

Wills and trusts. If a child has assets and no descendants, they need a will or revocable trust just like any other adult with significant assets. This can serve to protect the size of the parent’s estate for federal tax purposes, and allow them to designate a specific person to manage these assets if they die prematurely.

There are a few other things you may want to go over with your child and discuss with them once they turn 18 to set them up for success:

Medical records. Make sure the child has access to their medical records, including medications, allergies, immunizations, etc.

Insurance. See if the family’s medical, homeowner’s and auto insurance coverage extend to a child living away at school and in another state. If the child is renting a house or apartment, make sure they have renter’s insurance.

Proof of identity. Make sure the child has access to their passport, birth certificate and/or Social Security card so they can get an internship or a job.

Bank accounts and credit cards. If the family’s regular bank does not have a branch where the child is attending school, the parents should consider opening a basic checking account at a local branch. Parents can consider placing both parents and child onto the account.

Registration. It’s time to register to vote and men will need to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday.

One of the best ways to prepare your child is to go over these topics with them once they reach legal adulthood. Bring your child with you to see an estate planning attorney who can advise you on any additional documents needed for your family.

Reference: grb.com (June 7, 2019) “Give your graduate the gift of legal documents.”

Estate Planning for Parents with Young Children

  • Post Author:

Attorneys who focus their practices on estate planning, know that not every story has a happy ending. For some of them, it’s a professional mission to make sure that young parents are prepared for the unthinkable, says KTVO in the article “Family 411: Thinking about estate planning while your kids are young.”

It’s a very easy thing to forget, because it’s so unpleasant to consider. The idea of becoming seriously ill or even dying while your children are young, is every parent’s worst fear. But putting off having an estate plan with a will that prepares for this possibility is so important. Doing it will provide peace of mind, and a road forward for those who survive you, if your worst fears were to come true.

Start with a will and/or a guardianship nomination. In a will, you can name a guardian, the person who would be in charge of rearing your children and have physical custody of them. Don’t assume that your parents will take over, or that your spouse’s parents will. What if both sets of parents want to be the custodians? The last thing you want is for your in-laws and parents to end up in a court battle over custody of your children.

Another important document: a trust. You should have life insurance that will be the source for paying for the children’s education, including college, summer camps, after-school activities and their overall cost of living. In addition, proceeds from a life insurance policy cannot be given to a minor without the need for Court supervision and orders.

However, what if your son or daughter turned 18 and were suddenly awarded $500,000? At that age, would they know how to handle such a large sum of money? Many adults don’t. A trust allows you to give clear directions regarding how old the child must be, before receiving a set amount of money. You can also stipulate that the child must complete college before receiving funds or reach certain milestones. You may not want to have their legal guardian in charge of the finances; by dividing up the responsibilities, a checks and balances system is set into place.

While you are creating an estate plan with your children in mind, make sure your estate plan has the same documents for you and your spouse: Power of Attorney for Finance, Advance Healthcare Directive, and a HIPAA release form.

Speak with a local estate planning attorney who has experience in planning for young families.

Reference: KTVO.com (Feb. 6, 2019) “Family 411: Thinking about estate planning while your kids are young”