Category Archives: power of attorney

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.

 

If You Voted The Couple Would Choose Lawyer A…

Because friends recommended Lawyer A, the price seems reasonable, and the office location is convenient, the couple schedules a meeting. At the meeting later that week, Lawyer A asks them for some basic, personal information, which does not include their financial information. Lawyer A then asks whom the couple wants to name as Executor and as Guardian of their minor children in their Wills. The couple is not sure whom to choose and asks for some guidance. Lawyer A replies that they should ideally choose a Massachusetts lawyer as Executor and if not, then at least someone local with good financial sense, not necessarily a family member. For Guardians, Lawyer A says it is a personal decision for them to decide.

The couple does not know a Massachusetts lawyer they could name as Executor other than asking Lawyer A, which does not feel right. The couple is concerned about their local family members’ financial savvy and about how far away other family members live. The couple is also surprised to discover that they have fundamentally conflicting views about whom to name as Guardians for their children. They feel embarrassed to be having a highly personal, marital disagreement, in front of a virtual stranger who seems less than sympathetic. At this point, the couple asks for some time to think through these matters better before proceeding.

The couple goes home and disagrees passionately about their choice of guardians for their children, without the benefit of any real guidance. They also feel stuck about choosing an executor for their estate. They choose to allow the more urgent matters in their life (upcoming vacation, birthday parties, and such) to take precedence over the more important, and make no decisions.

Two weeks go by and the couple receives an email from Lawyer A saying their documents are ready to sign just as soon as the couple provides the names for the executor and guardian. A few more weeks go by the same way. Finally, the wife decides to agree to her husband’s choice of guardian and they both agree upon an executor even though neither of them feels confident or good about it. They just wanted to get it over with and have something in place. They inform Lawyer A and schedule a time to sign the documents at the office.

That Friday, the couple sits around Lawyer A’s conference table to sign their Wills, Powers of Attorneys, and Living Wills, feeling rushed and unable to really review the documents in any detail. They do catch a few minor errors, like the spelling of the wife’s name, which Lawyer A quickly has a secretary fix and reprint in the other room. Lawyer A does not explain the documents, but instructs the couple where to sign, which they do, along with some witnesses. The whole process feels incredibly awkward and unsettling. After receiving copies of their documents, the couple writes a check out to Lawyer A and leaves. They go home and put the documents in a pile with mail and kids’ artwork on the counter to deal with later.

Saturday is “date night” and when the babysitter arrives, the couple heads out for dinner and drinks with friends. On their way home, a drunk driver strikes their car directly. Stay tuned for what happens next . . .

What is Estate Planning & Do I Need a Will Now?

The phrase “estate planning” can be off-putting as many think it sounds like it pertains only to the very wealthy, when in fact it simply refers to how you would wish matters to be handled in the event of your incapacity.

Who would you want to make medical decisions for you if you were unable? In what ways would you wish to be kept alive and for how long? How would you wish for your funeral and burial or cremation to be handled, paid for, and by whom? In what manner do you wish to pass on both your financial and priceless personal assets to your children or other relatives? Whom you would want to care for any minor children you may have in the unlikely event both you and your spouse should die simultaneously or close in time?

Many young couples, especially those without children, shrug it off saying, “We don’t have anything” and figure they will address these questions farther down the line. The trouble is, most of us forget to come back to them or don’t want to think about such things, and the best time to contact an attorney and think through these difficult and often painful choices is *before* your family is in crisis. The bottom line is that if *you* do not address these questions and make these decisions, the state/a stranger will end up making them for you and their choices may be very different from your own.

Undoubtedly for parents of young children, the single most anxiety-producing question is what should happen to your children if you are not able to care for them yourself. While it is of course critical to determine whom you would want to be your children’s permanent guardian (and back-up/successor guardians), it is just as critical to name temporary/emergency guardians. If your spouse is far away on a business trip and your named permanent guardians are also far away, you may need a named temporary emergency guardian to care for your children until such time as your permanent guardians are able to arrive. Depending on where they are and what is going on in their own lives, that could be a considerable amount of time. If you don’t have immediate family nearby or name someone, it is entirely possible that your children will be placed into foster care temporarily rather than remaining with close family friends or relatives in their own or a familiar home.

To help you decide whether you should have a Will and other related legal instruments in place now, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you own a home, car(s), and/or jewelry (of sentimental and/or financial value)?

2. Do you have a bank account or accounts?

3. Do you have a life insurance policy?

4. Do you have a minor child or children? If so, have you legally named guardians to care for them temporarily and/or permanently in the event you become unable to do so?

5. Have you inherited a substantial amount of money from a relative?

6. Are you estranged from a closely related family member?

7. Do you or your closely related relatives have any special circumstances that might require distributing assets or property to you/them in a slightly different way?

8. Do you have someone legally appointed to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable?

9. Do you have someone legally appointed to manage your financial affairs (pay your bills, etc.) if you are unable to do so?

10. Do you have a Will? If yes, how many years old is it and does it still reflect your individual and/or family situation?

11. Do you have a Living Will? Do you think your family of origin might disagree with your partner or spouse under the stressful circumstances of your incapacity?

12. If you answered no to more than one of the above questions, why? (e.g. didn’t think it was necessary, don’t want to think about these things because it’s unpleasant, afraid can’t afford an attorney, other?)

Estate planning can be a very empowering process instead of the depressing, anxiety-inducing one you might have feared. If you work with an attorney who cares and listens to you and tries to help you as an individual meet your goals, then you are able to control how you pass on not only your financial assets, but also your intangible assets. Having a Will is not about plugging your name into some forms, tucking it away, and leaving it to collect dust until your eventual death (an attorney who will charge you hundreds of dollars to do just that is taking your money and running, leaving you and your loved ones largely unprotected). Estate planning should be an ongoing process and collaborative effort between you and your family’s attorney to ensure that your legal documents continue to meet your needs over time and weathering all of life’s changes.

As for cost, reasonable professional attorney fees are far less than the expenses involved in such matters as probating your estate and hiring all the related professionals, especially guardians for any minor child or children should both parents die simultaneously or close in time. The relatively small cost should be a top priority as a form of mental and practical “insurance.”

Wishing you and your family health, happiness, and priceless peace of mind!
-Danielle