THE WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE WEEK #4 (an estate planner's chronicle)

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THE PROBLEM: 50% of Americans do not have an Estate Plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).

THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD:  One argument, article, or essay a week persuading action.

THE DEADLINE:  7 weeks




Making the Case for an Estate Plan


Accidents happen.  The Clancy household is no exception.  In fact, a few of the Clancy kids seem to be downright accident prone.  In total Clancy kids have made nine trips to the emergency room so far.  Two broken legs (Paul), one broken collar bone (John), two separated shoulders (John and Paul), one broken finger (John), one smacked forehead (John), one slashed knee (John), one sliced fingertip (Luke).  


At first, these accidents were a four-alarm incident, particularly when Paul, at age six, skied into the rental house.  Eventually, accidents turned into a smooth operation for Mike and me.  We were usually near the "scene of the incident" and could quickly whisk the injured kid to the emergency room, talk to the medical staff, obtain treatment and be on our way in a few hours.  Even when Paul broke his leg (the second time) at a high school soccer game.  We were at the hospital within 20 minutes of getting the call. 


Now that Paul, John, and Maureen are away at college, an emergency room visit could be much different.  The college kids are all over 18 years old.  Therefore, they are considered adults in many respects including in the eyes of healthcare law.  Although our kids are covered on our healthcare plan, they still retain their right to healthcare privacy.  Just like paying our kids' college tuition does not give us the right to receive their college grades, covering our college kids with our healthcare plan does not grant us access to their medical information. 


Of course, this is what we want, right?  At least, most of the time.  We want our college kids to turn into responsible adults.  So, we encourage them to assume adult responsibilities (budget money, unsupervised schoolwork, independent living, etc.).  If they accept adult responsibilities it only seems fair that they should receive adult privileges.  One adult privilege is the right to privacy including healthcare privacy.  


For the most part, college kids keeping their healthcare information private is not problematic.  Not unless a college accident turns into a medical emergency.  If Paul's soccer accident (broken leg) had happened at college, it would have been upsetting but not a four-alarm incident.  Paul would have been conscious and therefore, he would be able to inform Mike and me of his condition.  Or Paul could have agreed for the healthcare staff to update us on his medical condition.  Either way, Paul could choose to waive his right to privacy. 


But what if Paul's accident involved a head injury and he was unconscious?  He could not waive healthcare privilege. It would be the medical staff's decision using a 
"patient's best interest" standard to decide what medical information to reveal.  Likely, there would be no problem if Mike and I were present at the hospital and the medical staff could identify us.  But Paul's college is 150 miles away.  Nowadays medical personnel are not eager to violate a patient's privacy.  What if the medical staff refused to reveal medical information over the telephone?  Would we have to wait for an update until we drove to the hospital two hours away?


Luckily, there is an easier option.  A HIPAA (Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) authorization form.  This document allows an adult (including adult children) to release medical information to named individuals (like parents).  The HIPAA authorization form can be signed by a college student and a copy kept by a parent in case of a medical emergency. 


A HIPAA authorization form along with a Medical Power of Attorney (appointment of an agent for medical decisions if incapacitated) and a Property Power of Attorney (appointment of an agent for property decisions if abroad or incapacitated) can ensure that your young adult is completely covered in the case of an emergency. 


In Illinois a HIPAA authorization form does not need to be witnessed or notarized.  It is a straightforward document.  I have included the one I use here.  
HIPPA AUTHORIZATION FORM  Power of Attorney documents are more complicated and therefore, I recommend obtaining them from an attorney to ensure they are completed correctly.  


If we ask our college kids to be responsible and prepare for a medical emergency, are we hypocritical if we do not take the same action for ourselves?  Draft your estate plan (wills, trust, powers of attorney).  It is easier, cheaper and less time consuming than you think.  


If I have persuaded you and made my case
please contact me or another trustworthy attorney to draft your estate plan.  If not, look for next week's argument.