Three Things Your College Bound Child Needs to Leave Behind

Do you have a child getting ready to head off to college?  Whether your child goes away to school or commutes from home, don’t let them start the school year without leaving behind these three documents:

Medical Power of Attorney.  If your child is over the age of 18, you no longer have the right to speak to their physicians, or make medical decisions for them.  If your child has an accident or becomes seriously ill at school and is hospitalized, medical personnel will not discuss your child’s medical condition or treatment with you without authorization. Have your child sign a medical power of attorney. Commonly referred to as a “patient advocate designation,” your child can appoint you to speak with doctors and make medical treatment decisions for them in the event they cannot do so themselves.

HIPAA Authorization.  Have your child sign a separate HIPAA authorization.   A medical power of attorney will only help you and your child if your child is incapacitated AND in a hospital or similar facility.  There may be situations where your child is either not incapacitated or is not hospitalized, but you still need to speak to medical providers on your child’s behalf regarding treatment he or she is receiving.  A HIPAA authorization will enable you to talk to them or obtain medical records and other information regarding your child’s medical condition.  You may not be able to make treatment decisions for your child, but you can at least monitor their care.  Remember, even though you are the parent, medical providers will not speak or release information to you without your child’s prior consent, regardless of your child’s medical condition.

Durable Power of Attorney. Finally, have your child sign a durable power of attorney. Parents of college students have all heard the privacy speech from school administrators – “Due to federal privacy regulations, we cannot discuss anything regarding your student without prior written authorization” – and they mean it. In order for you to discuss a tuition or dorm bill, dispute a lab fee, or discuss any of your child’s financial or other affairs with any third party, you need written authorization. That’s where the durable power of attorney comes in to play.

Under a durable power of attorney, your child can appoint you as their agent to handle their personal and financial and other non-medical affairs, whether they are incapacitated or not. Everything from banking and bill paying to tuition or room and board issues can be handled by you as your child’s agent. If your child becomes ill or has an accident while at school, as your child’s agent you will be able to keep their affairs in order until they regain the ability to do so.

Make sure you and your child are prepared for the coming school year by making sure they leave behind a medical power of attorney, HIPAA authorization, and durable power of attorney.  Good luck!

Does your student need these documents?  Give me a call.  I can help.

The Pitfalls of Do-It-Yourself Planning

Ed owned a bank account at First State Bank. Two months before he died, he went to the bank and named one of his five children, daughter Ann, as a joint owner of the account. He specifically selected an account with rights of survivorship, which, under Michigan law, meant that the balance of funds in the account would become Ann’s property when Ed died. After Ed’s death, Ann asserted that the money was hers and did not have to be shared with her siblings. Ed’s other four children filed a petition with the local probate court claiming that Ed had added Ann’s name solely for convenience and that he actually intended for the account proceeds to be shared equally among all of his children. The probate court held a hearing and ruled that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Ed had indeed added Ann’s name to the account merely for convenience to assist with his bill paying should he die, and that he wanted the proceeds shared among all of his children after his death.  The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the probate court.

Under Michigan law, when you add a child or other person’s name to a bank account, a legal presumption arises that you intend that funds in the account belong to the survivor when you die.  Even if you intend that the account balance be shared after your death, the law presumes otherwise. This presumption can be overcome, but only if it can be proved in a court of law, by “reasonably clear and persuasive proof,” that you did not intend that the account funds vest in the survivor.  This type of proceeding can cost a fortune in legal fees. What gets less attention is the emotional cost.   Battles like this, pitting sibling against sibling, wreak havoc within a family. While Ed thought he was doing good, the actual effect of his actions was quite the opposite.

It is never a good planning move to add a child or other person’s name to a bank account or other asset without first carefully considering all of the ramifications. What Ed may have thought would be a simple way to make sure funds would be readily available to pay his bills turned out to be anything but. Ed could have given Ann his power of attorney to access the account, or created a trust to hold the account and named Ann a trustee. In either scenario Ann would have been able to pay Ed’s bills out of the account, and remainder of the account would have been shared by all of his children after his death. Sure, there may have been legal fees associated with employing those techniques. But, when one looks at the emotional and financial cost of this family’s battle, it would have been money well spent.

Many things people do in their DIY planning appear on the surface to achieve an intended goal, but end up creating serious problems that are very expensive to fix. Always, always, always, work with a competent professional. Get the peace of mind that your intentions will be fulfilled using techniques that are best suited to your individual situation. The cost to do so is pretty reasonable in the long run.

The case is: In re Estate of EDWARD SADORSKI, SR., Deceased. You can read it here.

Are you looking for solutions to your financial or estate planning problems?  Contact me, I can help.

 

Critical Estate Planning Steps for College Students

College students are getting ready to head back to school. Whether your child goes away to school or commutes from home, don’t let them start the school year without taking these critical estate planning steps:

Have your student sign a medical power of attorney. If your child has an accident or becomes seriously ill, unless your child is under age 18, medical personnel will not discuss your child’s medical condition or treatment with you without authorization. Commonly referred to as a “patient advocate designation,” your child can appoint you to speak with doctors and make medical treatment decisions for them in the event they cannot do so themselves. It’s a good idea for the school’s medical clinic to have a copy on file, too.

Have your child sign a separate HIPAA authorization. Even with a valid medical power of attorney, medical providers may refuse to release your child’s medical information or speak to you regarding their medical condition. Doctors, hospitals, and other medical facilities fear the legal repercussions of unauthorized disclosures of one’s medical information. Even though you are the parent, they will not speak or release information to you without your child’s prior consent. I have handled cases where family members were forced to petition the courts to gain access to their student’s medical information in an emergency.

Finally, have your student sign a durable power of attorney. Parents of college students have all heard the speech from school administrators – “Due to federal privacy regulations, we cannot discuss anything regarding your student without prior written authorization” – and they mean it. To discuss a tuition or dorm bill, dispute a lab fee, or discuss any of your child’s financial affairs with any third party, you need written authorization. That’s where the durable power of attorney comes in to play.

Under a durable power of attorney, you child can appoint you as their agent to handle their personal and financial affairs if they can’t themselves. Everything from banking and bill paying to tuition or room and board issues can be handled by you as your child’s agent. If your child becomes ill or has an accident while away at school, as your child’s agent you will be able to access bank accounts, make sure their bills are paid, and keep their affairs in order until they regain the ability to do so.

This is a very exciting time for college students and parents. Make sure your student is fully prepared by making sure they give you their medical power of attorney, HIPAA authorization, and durable power of attorney.

Estate Planning Isn’t Just For Married People

The majority of my estate planning clients are married couples. For them, it just seems the natural thing to do. However, estate planning for singles is just as important. While a single person may have to do some things differently, they still need to have an estate plan to avoid problems that will naturally arise during times of incapacity or after death.

Most single people do not own assets jointly with another person. By contrast, married people will naturally add their spouse to financial accounts and real estate to ensure continued access to accounts upon the disability of one of them, and the efficient succession of ownership upon the death of one of them. For singles, adding another person’s name to a financial account or real estate may have unintended consequences that can be disastrous.

When a single becomes incapacitated, access to, and control of their assets become matters for the courts to determine in the absence of documents that will allow for someone to step into their shoes with legal authority to manage their assets and affairs.

Without a will or trust, the laws of the state of his or her residence will determine how their assets are divided and distributed after death. This will necessarily require the involvement of the courts along the way.

To avoid these pitfalls, it is important for singles to put together a estate plan, just like married people do. A comprehensive estate plan will consist of 5 key elements: a will; durable power of attorney; medical power of attorney; trust; and beneficiary designations.

The will is the cornerstone of any estate plan. It allows you to name the person who will guide the administration of your estate after your death; to specify how your assets will be distributed; and to name a guardian for your minor children.

A durable power of attorney lets you appoint someone (your “agent”) to manage your day-to-day affairs if you cannot do so for yourself. Whether this person is a parent, sibling, or close friend, it must be someone you trust implicitly.

A medical power of attorney lets you appoint someone to make medical treatment decisions for you if you cannot do so for yourself. This authority can extend to end-of-life decision making. Again, the person you appoint should be someone you trust to follow your wishes concerning medical care and to be a strong advocate for you.

A trust will allow for long term management and control of assets during your lifetime and simplify the distribution of your assets upon your death. Trusts are typically used to maintain privacy, avoid the probate courts, and minimize the effect of taxes on asset distribution after death.

Finally, beneficiary designations control the distribution of assets such as life insurance proceeds and retirement accounts. If you don’t have beneficiaries named, those assets are typically paid to your estate. In the case of retirement accounts, not naming a beneficiary can result in significant income taxes being levied. If the beneficiaries are out of date, those assets are still going to go to the people named, even if you no longer want them to receive those assets.

If you are single and don’t have an estate plan in place, it’s not too late to put one together. Work with an estate planning attorney who can develop an estate plan tailored to your individual circumstances.  Give me a call, I can help.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Basic Estate Planning

So, you’re thinking about putting an estate plan together (good for you!), but not sure if the timing is right, what to do, or what you need.  To help you get going, here is my quick and easy estate planning guide. Don’t worry, nothing complicated here, just basic information.

Is the time right? Well, estate planning is planning for the future. Planning for when you are not able to take care of yourself, and planning for what will happen after you die. I tell clients that as long as they’re alive it’s not too late. But remember, “tempus fugit” – time flies – and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so the best time to plan is now!

Do you need an estate plan? Estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy. You need an estate plan if you want to designate the person who will make financial and medical decisions for you if you can’t do so yourself (if you don’t a probate court judge will), or if you want to name a guardian for your minor children (if you don’t a probate judge will), or if you want to designate who will receive your property after you die (if you don’t, Michigan law will dictate who gets what). So forget those notions that estate planning is something only rich people need to do.

Do you need a lawyer? YES! Work with a competent lawyer.  It will cost more than you’d pay for a DIY kit, but it’s worth the additional expense and trust me, way cheaper in the long run.  Despite what you may have heard on the radio or seen on television, estate planning is not a “one size fits all” endeavor. Sure, those DIY documents may be legal in all 50 states, but will those cookie cutter documents be sufficient to carry out your wishes when the time comes? A lawyer can help you examine the big picture, give you guidance and recommendations, and most importantly draft custom, tailored documents to help you achieve your particular planning goals and objectives.

So what should be in your estate plan? There are five elements that form the basis of an effective estate plan.

Last will and testament. A last will and testament does primarily three things: Direct who will take care of minor children; Appoint someone to tie up all of your loose ends and file/pay taxes; Specify how your property gets distributed after you die. You can make a will as long as you meet certain legal standards. In Michigan, that means one has to be at least 18 years old and have sufficient “testamentary capacity” – basically the ability to understand the nature and gravity of what one is doing. As people age their mental capacity can become an issue. However, even if a person has diminished mental capacity due to mild dementia or other condition he or she may still have the capacity to make a will.

A last will and testament takes effect after you die, so it’s important to have planned in some way to ensure that someone will look after your affairs and make decisions for you if you become incapacitated during your lifetime. For that you need a power of attorney and a medical power of attorney (patient advocate designation).

Power of attorney. With a power of attorney, you appoint an agent to handle your financial affairs and other transactions if you become incapacitated. Everything from banking and bill paying to preparing and filing tax returns on your behalf can be handled by your agent. Your agent will be able to keep your affairs in order until you regain the ability to do so. A durable power of attorney can be designed to take effect the moment you sign it, or at some point in the future if and when you become incapacitated. The agent can be a spouse, family member, or trusted friend or adviser.

Medical power of attorney. In Michigan, the medical power of attorney, or patient advocate designation, is authorized by law. It allows you to appoint someone (your “patient advocate”) to make medical treatment decisions for you in the event you cannot make them for yourself. Your patient advocate can access medical records, talk to your doctors and make treatment decisions for you as long as you can’t make them for yourself. It may contain expressions of your desires concerning medical treatment at the point where your condition is such that there is no longer any prospect of a recovery, such as at the end-stage of a terminal illness. These instructions will ensure that you live your last days in dignity and peace.

Revocable, or living trust. Do you need one? It depends. What are your goals and objectives; what types of assets do you own; do you desire to avoid probate or minimize taxes; do you desire to maintain control of your assets even after you die? These are some of the issues to address in determining whether a trust will be a beneficial element of your estate plan. While you’re alive, a trust can be beneficial during times of incapacity. Assets that are held in trust can continue to be managed and controlled by someone you’ve designated as your trustee until you’ve regained the ability to resume managing them for yourself, without having to involve the courts.  After you die, a trust can help avoid probate on the transfer of assets, maintain privacy of your affairs, provide long term control and management of assets (especially helpful if you have younger children or other beneficiaries who may not be capable of managing an inheritance on their own), minimize the effect of taxes on the disposition of assets, and even take care of a beloved pet.

Beneficiary designations. What do beneficiary designations have to do with estate planning?  Many common assets do not pass through a will or trust.  Among them are life insurance benefits and retirement plan assets. These assets pass to the person(s) designated as beneficiaries. Even if a will says who gets the life insurance, it won’t matter if the life insurance policy has a beneficiary designated. So, as part of your estate plan, it’s important to make sure that you’ve designated beneficiaries for assets such as life insurance, annuities, and retirement plan accounts, and to make sure those beneficiaries designations are up to date.

So there you have it. A quick and easy guide to basic estate planning.  (Nothing to it!)  Now that you’ve got some basic information, it’s time to get your plan in place.

If you’d like to get started, contact me, I can help.

Estate Planning For The Here and Now

Estate planning clients tend to focus on the “when I die” issues when tending to their estate planning. However, if all you have done is sign a will and trust to order your affairs and distribute your property after you die, your estate plan is seriously deficient. Death is a certainty, but incapacity at some point during your lifetime is highly probable. And failing to plan to maintain continuity and management of your medical care and financial affairs during a period of incapacity can have disastrous consequences.

You must include tools in your estate plan to allow others to handle your personal and financial affairs during times when you cannot do so yourself. If you don’t, a court will be required to appoint a guardian to handle decisions concerning your person, and a conservator to manage your assets. This can be a time-consuming, expensive, and burdensome proposition.

So, what should you include in your estate plan to protect you during a period of incapacity? At a minimum, a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and a HIPAA medical authorization. Let’s look at each:

Durable power of attorney. Under a durable power of attorney, you appoint an agent to handle your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. Everything from banking and bill paying to preparing and filing tax returns on your behalf can be handled by your agent. Your agent will be able to access bank accounts, make sure your bills are paid, and keep your affairs in order until you regain the ability to do so. A durable power of attorney can be designed to take effect the moment you sign it, or at some point in the future if and when you become incapacitated.

Medical Durable Power of Attorney. Commonly referred to as a “patient advocate designation,” Michigan law allows you to appoint someone (your “patient advocate”) to make medical treatment decisions for you in the event you cannot make them for yourself. Your patient advocate can access medical records, talk to your doctors and make treatment decisions for you as long as you can’t make them for yourself. It may contain expressions of your desires concerning medical treatment at the point where your condition is such that there is no longer any prospect of a recovery, such as at the end-stage of a terminal illness. These instructions will ensure that you live your last days in dignity and peace.

HIPAA medical authorization. With a HIPAA authorization, you designate a person with whom medical providers can share your medical information and discuss your medical care. Even with a valid health care power of attorney, a medical provider may refuse to release your medical information to another person. They may refer to privacy restrictions contained in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Doctors, hospitals, and other medical facilities fear the legal repercussions of unauthorized disclosures of one’s medical information. So without written authorization from you, they may not speak with family members, even a spouse or a child, or release medical information to them.

Don’t neglect the here and now in your estate plan. Adding a durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and a HIPAA authorization to your existing estate plan will give you protection during your lifetime when you are most vulnerable.