December 31, 2020
Lessons of Intention and Preparedness That Stick
COVID-19 has taught us many lessons, including the importance of being intentional, prepared and ready to confront uncontrollable situations. New Year’s resolutions tend to do that for us, too, because they get us started on a focused beginning as we ring in another year. Should you be wondering what to include among your resolutions, consider putting a review of your estate plan at the top of the list. If you haven’t already visited your attorney to create these documents, or review them, it’s definitely time to do so—and pend your estate plan for at least five years when it will be time to re-evaluate it.
More than divvying up your assets
We’ve all heard about the importance of having a Will, but there’s more to estate planning than how to divvy up your assets. A number of our other blogs address the importance of having a fundamental estate plan in place. Two less frequently talked about but related issues include protections for your college or travel-bound 18+-year-old child and the importance of storing your account passwords in an accessible location.
If you’re the parent of an 18-year-old who’s heading back to college, you’d be wise to have your young adult sign a durable power of attorney with healthcare proxy language before taking off. By signing these documents, your children are giving you permission to act on their behalf and be their important and immediate fallback should a health or financial emergency occur.
A helicopter parent…not
You don’t have to be a helicopter parent to orchestrate this. In fact, COVID has highlighted the need for these documents. We’ve heard of too many kids, now chronologically and essentially adults, who went off to school and got sick with COVID. Their parents had difficulty gaining information about the severity of their child’s illness or finding out where their kids had been moved to quarantine. Plus, there were too many unanswered questions about how the school would plan to keep them safe going forward.
The unknown is tortuous
There’s nothing more troubling than the unknown when it comes to your kids’ wellbeing. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) works as a great safeguard to your individual privacy because it prevents individuals beyond adult patients and their health care providers from sharing information. But as a parent, it could work against you when it’s time to protect your son or daughter if they’re facing a scary health emergency.
COVID, as well as other health emergencies, could require intercession for life-saving decision-making. Your child may have a high fever and be too sick to discuss a need for surgery. Also, the treating medical professionals may need to know that your youngster reacts allergically to certain medications. Even financially, your child could be quarantined someplace in the states or abroad and unavailable to perform time-controlled financial activities like signing a lease or talking to a creditor.
Sowing privacy oats versus clear communication
The reality is, however, that although you can drive your kid to your lawyer’s office, they must cooperate. At 18, your youngsters may be feeling their oats. They may not want you to know their business, even though these documents benefit them as they would any adult who grants a trusted other the power to act on their behalf when situations require. Clear communication with your child about when and how the documents would be used is critical. Helping them understand that having a healthcare proxy and a durable power of attorney in place are safeguards not encroachments. An experienced estate planning attorney can help explain the value of these documents to your new adult and likely will ask you to leave the room in order to ensure complete understanding and consent.
Where are your passwords
Another important aspect of an effective estate plan is password accessibility. If you’re like many of us, you may misplace or forget your passwords. Passwords are not one of the first things we think about when it comes to estate planning. But nine-times-out-of-10, they are the key to where important information is located.
It’s a good idea to store your passwords in a special folder or envelope that you turn over to your estate attorney. This will make it easy to put a finger on everything when the information is needed. Also be sure to include your passwords on a spreadsheet that catalogues all your important documents and their whereabouts [e.g., Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Trusts, Living Will and Advanced Healthcare Directive, house deed and mortgage documents, investment and 401(k) accounts]. Storing extra password copies in a safety deposit box that holds important documents is also an added protection, as is providing your attorney and your appointed fiduciaries an extra key to your safety deposit box.
In the end, a gift
A new year, especially this one, comes with hope for the future. A topic like your estate may seem dark, an intrusion to holiday spirit and a counterpoint to positivity. But there’s no escaping the importance of the preparedness that comes with having an estate plan. There’s no time like the present and the symbolism of the new year’s resolution to take action. If you think about estate planning as a gift you’re giving your family, you just may decide that there’s no better way to ring in the new year.
When you turn to Phelan, Frantz, Ohlig and Wegbreit, LLC, we will partner with you on every step of your estate planning process. Call us at 908.232.2244 to set up an appointment, begin a new year with intention and be prepared for wherever life takes you and your family.