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  • Anamaria Taitt

Back-To-School Time Is The Perfect Opportunity to Review Your Estate Planning

With Fall approaching, kids and young adults ranging from toddlers to college students will soon be heading back to school. Whether “Back to School” means purchasing crayons and safety scissors for your kindergartener or moving your college student into the dorms, it’s a time when we become more aware of the change that constantly takes place in all of our lives.

That means it’s an opportune time to consider how any changes in your family’s circumstances might affect your estate planning, and how a review of your documents might help protect your family in the future. In fact, this is generally a good time to make sure you’re prepared for a wide range of unexpected issues. For example, make sure your school has an approved pick-up list for your kids in case of an emergency that keeps you from getting them.

Typically, when people think about estate planning, their families and especially their children are top of mind. It makes sense because, after all, the whole point of estate planning is to make sure that your family will be okay after you're gone. If it's been longer than three or four years since the last time you had an attorney review your estate planning documents – wills, trusts, power of attorney, etc. – circumstances that could impact the decisions you originally made may have changed.

For example, part of the estate planning process includes deciding who will care for your children if you and your spouse should pass away unexpectedly. You may have chosen someone partly because they live in the same area where you currently reside. If they've moved since you created the documents, you may want to revise that. Filling out all those new emergency contact forms may serve as a reminder to revisit who will care for your children.

When your children are no longer “children”

One issue that is almost always overlooked by parents as their children turn 18, a time that many of these “children” are heading to college is that they are now legal adults. That means, if they are ever hospitalized with an illness or injury and unable to make decisions about their healthcare for themselves, you as a parent no longer have the legal right to make those decisions on their behalf. In fact, doctors and medical staff are legally not even allowed to discuss your child's medical condition with you.

Most parents find this shocking. However, you can avoid this issue by having them sign a Healthcare Power of Attorney and HIPAA release. This is a physical document that you keep on file and show to the doctor or medical staff caring for your child if you need to make health care decisions on his or her behalf. It is strongly recommended that parents have this document in effect for all of their adult children, at least until they get married.

With children under 18, additional problems can arise if the child is sick or injured and the parents are unable to be by their side right away, such as when parents go on vacation and leave the child with a grandparent. When that happens, all health care decisions are made by medical staff with no input from the child's family. This problem can be resolved, however, by designating a “health care surrogate” in advance.

Known as a “Designation of Health Care Surrogate for Minors,” it can stay in effect until the child turns 18. However, it is limited only to health care decisions and does not cover any other issues, such as approving class trips, registering a child for an activity, or addressing any other government regulated matter.

This is why many parents have their lawyer create a power of attorney for their children. For minor children, a power of attorney covers these issues, as well as many others. For adult children, it gives parents a lot of options when it comes to dealing with financial issues, such as paying bills, as well as making healthcare decisions, if the adult child becomes incapacitated.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help you protect the welfare of your children, regardless of age, or if you would simply like to talk to a qualified estate planning attorney about how to protect your family in general, contact Nexus Legal Solutions at 407-900-7722 for a consultation.

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