Tuesday, July 26, 2016

You Got WHAT for Your 18th Birthday?

Eighteen is a big year. It's the year you can vote, buy scratch tickets and tobacco, and it's the year that most students, like myself, graduate from high school. I was lucky enough to receive a car for my 16th birthday, so it really seemed like the sky was the limit when it came to what I was getting for my 18th birthday and graduating high school. And personally, I felt like I deserved a lot because I was graduating top 10 in my class and was student council president. But my dreams all came crashing down on September 9, 2011 when I opened the envelope to see what my parents decided to give me, an estate plan. 

After spending the past three summers and the majority of my professional life learning the ins and outs of estate planning I now understand the gift that my parents gave me was huge, but at the time, not so much, and five years later (eeek, I'll be 23 in September), I think that every 18 year old should get an estate plan for their birthday. Read on to find out why. 

Me on my 18th birthday, because nothing says 18 like a Barbie cake

Although when I turned 18, my parents were still supporting me; I was still living in their house, they were about to start my tuition payments for the college I would begin attending next fall, and they still claimed me as a dependent on their tax return, I was legally considered an adult. For one, this meant that even though I was still on their health care plan, they would no longer able to access my medical records or speak to my doctors on my behalf. And although I consider myself a highly independent person, this scared me. If I still needed my mom to hold my hand when I got a shot, how was I expected to make all my own health care decisions? In signing a Health Care Proxy and Patient Authorization, it gave my parents the ability to make doctors appointments and talk to my doctor for me when I didn't quite understand what was going on. All I had to do was provide my doctor's office with a copy of the document, and my parents would have access. 

This may seem scary to some teens who don't want their parents to have access to knowledge like the results of their STD tests or if they take birth control, but signing this document was well worth it to me. When I was a freshman at UMass Amherst, I went out one night with a splitting pain in my side. Normally, I could dance it off with my sorority sisters, but not this time. I was awake all night with a splitting pain in my side and my room felt like it was a million degrees even though it was early spring. The next morning my roommate took my to the ER, and sure enough, I had an appendicitis. Before my mom could make it out to Amherst, I was taken in to surgery, but I knew that when my mom got there, even if I was still in surgery or under anesthesia, she could talk to the doctor and find out about my condition because of my health care proxy. 

In line with the health Care Proxy and Patient Authorization, I also signed a Living Will, which, in basic terms, gave my parents permission to "pull the plug" should I become incapacitated with no hope of ever coming back. I hope and pray that my parents never have to use this document, but it is one that it extremely important to me because I do not want to be kept alive by extraordinary measures, and I want to be able to die with dignity. Alternatively, a Living Will can also dictate that a person wants every extraordinary measure taken should they become incapacitated, but that is up to whose ever Living Will it is! With accidents being the leading cause of death for 18-25-year-olds (Jacobs, 2015), this can be an extremely important document for this age group to have.

Another important document that I signed when I was 18 was a Durable Power of Attorney. This document appointed my mom to be my Attorney-In-Fact, which gave her the ability to act on my behalf legally in financial matters. Again, this may be scary to some 18-year-olds because it gives your Attorney-In-Fact access to your otherwise confidential college grades, but it can also be extremely useful. 

Me at a German Castle, presumably I needed more money for shopping
and beer, sorry mom and dad.

For example, after I graduated from high school, I lived abroad in Germany and Austria the summer before I headed off to college. The Power of Attorney gave my parents the ability to send me money abroad from my own bank account back home. With so many students spending a semester abroad or taking a gap year these days, having this document can be extremely beneficial in case parents have to access their children's bank account or contact a foreign embassy on their child's behalf. 

I also signed a Last Will and Testament, which like my Living Will, I hope is not used in the near future. Nevertheless, it is an important document to have because I do have assets, regardless of how small they are. 

Wills, Health Care Proxies, and Durable Power of Attorneys are not something that are on the mind of every 18 year old, but I sure am happy that my parents gave me an estate plan. Check out this article for more information, and of course call us if you have any questions. And we hope now you know exactly what to get your son or daughter for their 18th birthday. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

There's No Vacation for Legal Documents

image via thealertmind.blogspot.com

Every year, over 650 million vacations are taken between Memorial Day and Labor Day. And most of those vacations are probably taken with one goal in mind: to have fun. But unfortunately, sometimes things don't always go as you plan, and as we like to say around the office, "failing to plan is planning to fail," so whether you're just going a few towns over for a small get away or planning a cross country road trip, here are a few simple tips to help you get by if things don't go as planned. 

1. Bring your health care documents with you when your travel. When planning a vacation, we often don't include a trip to the ER or hospital stay in those plans, but it is important to always be prepared for the unexpected. If you have an estate plan, you most likely have documents such as a Living Will and Health Care proxy, which are important documents to have in case you end up in the hospital and are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. These are just as important to have when you are traveling as when you are living your day to day life at home. It is also important to travel with your health insurance card, medicare/medicaid card, and medical information card to avoid mistreatment or headaches in the future.

2. Check up on your Power of Attorney. Another important aspect of an estate plan is a Durable Power of Attorney, which gives someone the power to act for you in a legal or financial matter. If you become severely ill while traveling and have to stay in the hospital where you were vacationing, your attorney-in-fact can ensure that your bills are paid and other things at home don't fall apart. It's always a good idea to let your attorney-in-fact know that you are traveling, just in case.

3. Understand where you are traveling to. When traveling across state lines, in nearly all cases, your legal documents will be valid, but if you are traveling abroad, it is best to do some research before you leave the tarmac. Ask questions like: does this country recognize health care proxies? Living wills? Does my insurance cover treatment in this country? If I have medicare (which does not cover health care costs outside of the US), what is my back up plan for paying for health care bills should I encounter them abroad? Even if the answers to some of these questions aren't the answers you want to hear, it's important to understand the implications that they might have if you become ill.

Checking up on these three things can make your vacation run a little more smoothly should you encounter an unexpected illness. Thousands of people travel every year without incident, but it is always a good idea to have a plan in place. So get out there and explore, relax, read, swim, hike, and sight see, but do it with a plan in place!