Parents: Give your Graduate and yourselves the gift of 3 critical estate plan documents

Guest author W. Parish Lentz

Congratulations parents of graduates from high school and college! Time to celebrate and prepare for the next stage of life for your children.  While always children in your eyes, upon reaching the age of 18, all individuals are ADULTS in the eyes of the law, both state and federal, with a slew of rights and privacy protections that did not exist when they were 17 years and 364 days old.

3 Essential Documents:

A Financial Power of Attorney allows your child to appoint someone (just like you) as their attorney in fact to carry out banking transactions, sign tax returns, arrange for insurance pay bills, deal with a landlord, or replace a lost debit card whether the child is incapacitated or simply away at college.  Without this financial power of attorney, parents would not have legal authority to act on their children’s behalf.  The alternatives are incurring personal liability for their children or seeking a guardianship in the Probate Courts.

A Health Care Power of Attorney (Proxy in Massachusetts) allows your child to select an agent to make health care decisions in the event that they are NOT ABLE to make informed decisions about their health care, for instance if they are unconscious or unable to communicate.  The September 21, 2013 Wall Street Journal article Why Your College-Age Children Need an Estate Plan  relates the story of parents unable to secure basic information about their college age children after a car accident left the children in the hospital and unconscious.

A HIPAA Authorization allows your child to list people with whom they want their health care providers to share OTHERWISE PROTECTED information.  Doctors and hospitals have a duty to protect patient privacy regardless of who pays the bills.  Just because your adult child is covered by your insurance.  (which  you are paying for) doesn’t mean you can access their protected heath information, as the parents in the Wall Street Journal article discovered.

Internet forms work just the same as the documents prepared by attorneys, right?

Sometimes yes.  But you take a big chance. A client who was helping an elderly relative using her financial power of attorney sent me a letter from a financial institution which would not recognize the power of attorney unless they received a letter from our office with the following language:

As a practicing attorney in the state of Rhode Island, I certify that the attached Power of Attorney signed by … is a true and accurate copy of the original and is in full force and effect.

We also get calls from clients at banks trying to use the power of attorney and the bank employee tells them the bank cannot accept the document.  Despite the prior drama with the bank, we typically resolve the confusion with a single telephone call and educate the bank employee or their manager..  Parents, please consider a possible gift of these properly drafted and executed estate plan documents.

CAVEAT: these documents are not as cool as a car.

  1. Parish Lentz focuses his practice on estate and trust planning and administration, as well as business formation and ongoing representation of corporate clients, including non-profit entities. His estate and trust planning practice includes litigating disputes in state court, including trust reformations and accountings, will contests, and guardianship proceedings. Recognizing the uncertainties and costs of court oversight, Mr. Lentz makes every effort to ensure that estate plans reflect the goals of clients.
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