Category Archives: Living Wills

18-Year-Olds Need Estate Plans, Too

Every adult needs at least a few basic legal documents to provide for her own medical and financial affairs.

Once a person turns 18 years old he becomes a legal adult. This matters from an estate planning perspective because:

  • Parents or legal guardians lose their right of access to information about that young adult.
  • The young adult loses the automatic right of the parents or legal guardians to advocate on his behalf.
  • If the young adult needs assistance with medical care or financial advocacy, such as in the event of an emergency, the parent or legal guardian will be unable to do so without legal authorization.

That’s why every young adult needs at least a very basic estate plan. With proper legal authorization, parents and legal guardians can continue to support and advocate for their children and gain access to their medical, financial, and digital information.

A basic estate plan preserves good relationships between different family members who may not agree with one another about the young adult’s stated wishes.

Every young adult should have at least some basic legal documents that provide the adults of her choosing the authority to:

  • Manage her financial affairs such as paying bills, requesting statement copies, and renegotiating contract or lease terms when she just wants helps and in case of an emergency;
  • Access her online banking and other electronic, financial accounts;
  • Access her protected health information;
  • Consent to or refuse medical treatments and procedures if she cannot do so herself;
  • Serve as her spokesperson regarding her end of life wishes;
  • Consent to donating her organs;
  • Arrange for her cremation or burial;
  • Organize the details of her memorial service according to her preferences;
  • Post notices to and/or memorialize, download copies of, or close out her social media accounts;
  • Specify who should receive certain sentimental pieces of personal property, like jewelry, collections or mementos.

 

a life still in the process of blossoming, cut short

Sometimes when horrible, totally unfair things happen, they happen to people we love.  Those things force us to sit up and take notice.  They shake our foundations and test our beliefs.  There’s probably nothing that does so more or is more awful than a life still in the process of blossoming, cut short.  Our hearts bleed for the surviving loved ones.  And we are reminded that all lives are like pebbles that make ripples in still water, extending out to all the other lives around us.

A kindred spirit of mine recently experienced such an awful thing and described being in the thick of it so vividly it nearly put me there too:  http://workingmomfence.com/2010/09/when-the-shit-hits-the-fan/

This is what happened:  http://ghostbikes.org/new-york-city/stefanos-tsigrimanis

Ghost Bike

These are some of the ripples: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=stefanos-tsigrimanis&pid=145231432

People ask me how I can talk and think about disability, incapacity, death, and dying all the time.  (They used to ask me how I could talk about violence against women and children.)  My answer is essentially the same to those questions as the Shel Silverstein poem I quoted under my mug shot in our Senior High School yearbook: “Somebody has to go polish the stars. They’re looking a little bit dull.” 

I asked Kami’s permission to share her post here as a reminder that stuff does happen, in the hope that it will inspire other young, healthy people to take about the same amount of time as dinner and a movie to get their affairs in order as a selfless gift to their loved ones.  If you have ever been in the wretched position of having to make decisions about organ donation and termination of artificial life-sustaining / death-prolonging measures, you would likely never wish that on anyone you love.

While it is difficult and unpleasant to think about these things, it is always better to do so in times of health from a calm and collected place.  You can spare the people you love from possibly turning against one another in their grief over fundamental differences of opinion or out of different religious convictions and allow them to come together for mutual support and comfort instead.  You can spare your loved ones a lifetime of guilt and agony second-guessing their difficult decisions by making those decisions yourself and taking the burden off of them.  You can make sure your sentimental stuff goes to people who will appreciate and understand it.  You can acknowledge relationships that are otherwise not formally recognized.

Terrible things happen and we can’t always prevent them, but we can do things to prevent compounding of our loved ones’ grief.  That is a gift we can give them now and for which they will be forever grateful.

What Happened Next to the Couple Who Chose Lawyer C

The couple is transported to a nearby hospital where the husband is pronounced dead on arrival. The wife is comatose and is initially connected to life sustaining machines, until two doctors conclude there is no reasonable expectation of recovery. Because the wife had a copy of her Advance Directive / “Living Will” in her wallet that the emergency responders discovered, the doctors made the difficult decision to honor her wishes and discontinue life support.

Meanwhile, the wallet card in each parent’s possession identified their minor children’s names and birthdates and instructions for whom to call in the event of an emergency. Law enforcement officials go to the home where they are greeted by a startled high school babysitter. The babysitter shows the officers the copy of the emergency notes and whom she is to call, which matches the parents’ wallet card information.

The officers call the first emergency guardian, the children’s maternal aunt who lives nearby. The children’s aunt rushes over immediately with her notarized copy of her emergency guardianship papers. The officers agree to allow her to stay in the family’s home with the children and they and the babysitter then leave.

The aunt calls her sister’s in-laws to inform them of what happened. She learns from them that they are named as permanent guardians and executors under the parents’ Wills. She also learns from them where the couple stored their estate planning documents in the home and retrieves them for review. Together with her sister’s in-laws and named permanent guardians, the children’s aunt plans how she will care for the children until the guardians are able to arrive from out of state. They also review together the parents’ wishes regarding anatomical gifts and funeral directions and are very grateful for the detailed letter to the executor the couple had prepared for them with Attorney C.

The next day the executors call Attorney C who provides them with a document detailing precisely what the next steps should be, which is extremely helpful in their moment of crisis. Attorney C promises to and does help them through every step of the process to make a horrible tragedy less traumatic for the surviving family members.

If You Voted The Couple Would Choose Lawyer C…

First, the couple has a very brief telephone call with Lawyer A asking for and being told they can have just want they want for a flat fee of about $800. Next they have an initial consultation with Lawyer B, who waives the initial fee. After an hour, in which the couple begins to feel very overwhelmed by a seemingly unnecessary for them complex process, Lawyer B says he anticipates their estate plan will cost somewhere around $5,000. But because it he bills by the hour and he can’t predict everything, it could run higher. Additionally, they would be responsible for several other itemized expenses that could prove necessary in the course of the representation. This plan would include far more than the simple Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills Lawyer A offered, but the couple leaves unclear as to why they are talking about trusts and feeling like they are being offered more than they need.

The couple then schedules a meeting with Lawyer C, receiving a welcoming packet of information and initial questionnaire in advance. Lawyer C explains she needs this information to properly evaluate and make recommendations about what type of estate plan might suit them best. Through the process of completing this questionnaire, which helps them organize their estate planning information and sharpen their focus on their wishes, the couple begins to feel better prepared and less “in the dark.”

With Lawyer C, the couple immediately feels comfortable, as though they are talking with a peer, rather than being talked down to by a superior. Lawyer C explains a little about her practice, the estate planning process generally, and asks some probing questions of them. She then suggests what she thinks would best protect the couple’s family and assets according to the wishes and goals they expressed. Understanding it is their choice to make, the couple then reviews Lawyer C’s printed fee schedule, comparing apples to oranges as it were. They choose a $4,000 flat fee package they feel provides them the best value, happy there will be no surprise fees, and agreeing to handle some of the administrative work themselves. Although this is far more than they originally planned to spend, they agree it is important enough to do now while they could and not wait for tragedy to strike, particularly in light of recent events. So they sign up for an automatic monthly payment via credit card, and leave already feeling relieved.

A few weeks later, after several very conveniently timed telephone conferences and thorough, patient reviews of and revisions to drafts, the couple’s estate plan is ready for signing. Lawyer C comes to their home one Saturday afternoon and they sit around the kitchen table, while the couple’s young children play around them. Lawyer C makes sure they understand and feel good about every document they sign, and thanks the neighbors who kindly stopped by to serve as witnesses. Lawyer C then reminds the couple to whom they should provide copies of each document, where they should store them, and offers some additional resources for information sharing. She reminds them to revisit their plan and promises to follow up with them as well, but says they shouldn’t be strangers in the meantime.

That night, the couple goes out for “date night” dinner and drinks with friends, leaving their young children happy at home with their favorite babysitter. On the way home, a drunk driver strikes the couple’s car directly. Stay tuned for what happens next . . .

What Happened Next to the Couple Who Chose Lawyer A

The couple is transported to a nearby hospital where the husband is pronounced dead on arrival. The wife is comatose and connected to life sustaining machines, although two doctors conclude there is no reasonable expectation of recovery.

Meanwhile the high school babysitter starts to worry because it is unlike this couple to stay out later than agreed without calling first and she has to be home before her own driving curfew. The children are asleep and unaware, but the babysitter tries calling the wife’s cell phone. There is no answer, so the babysitter calls her mother to explain why she will be late coming home.

Two hours later, the babysitter’s mother tries calling the local police department, informs them that her daughter is babysitting and the parents have not come home or called as expected and learns that the couple was involved in a car accident and will not be home that night at all. She rushes over to the house to help her daughter and meets the police there. The children wake from all the noise, lights, and commotion, frightened and crying for their parents.

The police ask the babysitter where the children’s nearest relatives are, but she does not know. The parents only left the babysitter the wife’s cell phone number and where they were going that night. Police officers then ask the children who, because of their ages, can only indicate that “Auntie Christine” sometimes drives to their house in her car. Not knowing how to immediately reach any family members, the police call The Massachusetts Department of Child and Family Services (DCF, the agency formerly known as DSS) to arrange temporary placement of the children for the evening. The babysitter and her mother offer and try to insist that they will spend the evening with the children in their home, but the police will not allow it. A social worker arrives within an hour to take the children to a foster home overnight.

Thankfully, the next day the authorities locate the children’s nearest relative, their twenty-eight-year-old, single, maternal aunt, with whom they are placed. She promptly rushes to the hospital with the children to be at her sister’s bedside and pleads with the doctors not to give up hope on and please save her. The children are confused and deeply upset from seeing their mother that way and cannot quite comprehend and so keep asking where their father is.

In their Wills and Powers of Attorney which no one knew of, had copies of, or knew where to locate, the couple had named the husband’s sister and brother-in-law, who live in upstate New York with their two young children, as Guardians of the minor children. The couple had named the husband’s parents, who lived in a retirement community in Florida, as Co-Executors and Attorneys-in-Fact.

And so it goes . . . At this point, what are your reactions to the value of the level of service the couple received from Attorney A? Do you think Attorney A helped this couple accomplish their wishes and best protect their children and loved ones? Please leave your comment here. Thank you in advance for your contribution to this ongoing dialogue.