Colorado Wills

5 Things Your High School Graduate Should Have Before Leaving Home For School

May is graduation month. This is a time when many of you may be celebrating your children’s academic achievements, and even getting ready to send them off to college. During this hectic and emotionally tumultuous time, you may be all-consumed with helping prepare your soon-to-be college student for the next phase, causing you to overlook important estate planning matters. There are a few important things you should add to your to-do list as you get ready to send your kids off to college. 

1. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
Every year, roughly a quarter of a million young adults between the ages of 18-25 wind up in the hospital. From alcohol poisoning and nonlethal accidents to unexpected illnesses, it’s important to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Once a child reaches the age of 18, a parent’s decision making role is significantly diminished, especially in regards to making healthcare decisions. 

Should your child get in a car accident, or fall ill and not be capable of making their own medical decisions, then without a durable power of attorney naming you as health care agent for the child, you cannot make medical decisions on your child’s behalf. If you want to ensure that you can continue to make healthcare decisions for your child, creating a health care power of attorney should be at the top of your to-do list. 

2. HIPPA Authorization
In order to make informed medical decisions, it’s important to include a HIPPA authorization form along with a health care power of attorney. Without it, you would be unable to communicate with healthcare professionals and insurance companies, as well as access your child’s health records and previous treatment information.

3. Durable Power of Attorney (Finances and Property)
Similar to a health care power of attorney, a financial power of attorney gives you the ability to make financial decisions on your child’s behalf, should they be unable to do so themselves. Should your child become disabled for any reason, then you would still be able to pay their  rent, credit card bills, utilities, access bank accounts and financial records, as well as manage any loans they may have.

4. FERPA Release
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is designed to protect a college student’s privacy, but it can also leave parents locked out in an emergency. A properly worded release can allow you to talk to school officials and release pertinent educational records and information should you need it.

5. Last Will and Testament
While many parents don’t want to think about this topic, especially as their child leaves home, it’s an important one to add to the list. A will allows parents to honor their child’s wishes on what should be done with their social media accounts, bank accounts, and personal assets. It also allows the child to specify any funeral arrangements they would like to have.

They have a law degree and passed the Bar. They must be good, right?

Several years ago, my son had some reconstructive surgery.  My wife spent hours researching doctors before choosing a doctor in Denver. This doctor had an impressive resume-- she had attended great schools, had lots experience and we liked her. The first surgery was an absolute failure. The doctor was surprised at the result and assured us that if she did it again, we'd get the result we expected.  The second surgery wasn't much better, and our frustration increased. We decided to give her one last shot, thinking the third time's a charm.  Same surgery with the same result. We were furious and confused. How could someone who seemed so qualified, do such an awful job? Not just once, but three times. 

My wife and I were talking about this experience the other day, which led to a discussion about the wide range of abilities among professionals. There are lots of estate planning attorneys in Colorado Springs. Some are really good and some are really bad. So, how does someone know which one to choose? Here are my tips for choosing your estate planning attorney:

  • Ask for referrals from friends or family or coworkers. Do you have a CPA or financial adviser? These professionals regularly work with estate planning attorneys and should have some good insight.
  • Google their name and see what you find. Do they have a website? Do they have any reviews on Google? Go to the website Avvo and see what it says about them. 
  • Go meet them in person. Most attorneys offer a free 30-minute consultation. Ask lots of questions. After 30 minutes you should have a pretty good sense of whether you like the attorney or not, how experienced they are in estate planning and whether they're competent.
  • Don't confuse price with value and remember that you usually get what you pay for. I'd be nervous about an attorney who says they'll prepare your trust-based plan for $1,000. I'd run from an attorney who says it will cost $10,000 to do the same thing.

If you're looking for an estate planning attorney, try this out on me. Look me up on the web. Schedule a free consultation and come meet with me. I'm confident you'll be happy with what you find out. 

"We Just Want Something Simple"

I recently met with a couple who wanted to update their estate plan. Early in the meeting, the wife said matter-of-factly, "We have a simple estate. We want a simple estate plan." When people tell me that they have a "simple estate" what they're usually saying is that they don't think the value of their assets warrants anything more than a "simple" plan.

As I talked to this couple I learned a lot about their "simple estate."

  • This was a second marriage for both of them.
  • The husband has a child with severe mental disabilities. 
  • The wife has a son who's an alcoholic and a daughter whose marriage is shaky.
  • The husband owns a rental property in California.
  • The wife is expecting a fairly large inheritance in the next few years.

Sounds simple, right?

The truth about estate planning is that the overall value of one's assets is a just a fraction of determining what type of plan a person needs. For this couple, there were so many issues to address that had nothing to do with the current value of their estate. The non-money related issues actually made their estate somewhat complex. 

There's a common saying among estate planning attorneys: "You don't know what you don't know." This is why a great estate planning attorney is so important. Looking at more than just the overall value of the estate reveals that something "simple" normally won't cut it. 

Call or e-mail Justin Fish Legal today to schedule your free estate planning consultation.

Lessons Learned

I recently worked with a man whose situation illustrates how important it is to have an estate plan in place. "Bill" passed away in October and had an estate worth over 4 million dollars. He was single with no kids and had one one brother with whom he had little contact. 

The first time I met Bill was in the hospital, a day after he left the ICU.  His assistant contacted me because Bill didn't have an estate plan in place.  Luckily,  I was able to finish Bill's plan weeks before he passed away.  If he hadn't created a plan a few things would have happened:

  1. If Bill had died without a Will or a Trust, his entire estate would have gone to his brother. That was exactly the outcome Bill didn't want. He ended up distributing his estate to 40 different friends and charities. When someone dies without a Will or a Trust, state law determines where one's estate goes. A Will or a Trust allows a person to decide exactly how they want their assets distributed
  2. I always prepare a Living Will when I create an estate plan. A Living Will contains a person's instructions in the event they're in a vegetative state or have a terminal condition. Before Bill died, he fell into a vegetative state.  His healthcare agent relied on Bill's Living Will to make end-of-life decisions. I later spoke with Bill's healthcare agent and he expressed how grateful he was that Bill had a Living Will. He simply followed Bill's wishes and wasn't left with the difficulty of deciding when to end another person's life.

I've learned that estate planning is really meant to benefit the people we love. When we plan, we provide set of instructions wherein we describe what we want to happen during our incapacity and at our death. These instructions are invaluable when it comes time to make decisions. Taking care of our estate planning is a great gift to give our loved ones this holiday season.

What's The Value of an Estate Plan?

Most people agree that some type of life insurance is very important. I certainly believe it is, which is why I make monthly payments on my term-life policy . If something where to happen to me, life insurance will ensure that my wife and kids are financially taken care of.

Consider this: Depending on which study you read or expert you ask, less than 1-2% of term-life policies will actually pay out. Why? Because 98-99% of people will outlive their term policy.

Now think about estate planning. Do we consider an estate plan as important as life insurance? We should, because 100% of people will actually use their will or trust.