Run! Don’t walk to your estate planning attorney’s office. Your parents must put a comprehensive estate plan in place as soon as possible. Part of that estate plan allows you to help them out during their lifetime, managing finances, paying bills, and making health care decisions if they are not able to make those decisions themselves.
If these legal documents are not in place and your parents need help, there is a court process called “Conservatorship.” Conservatorship is expensive, time consuming, public, and extremely heart breaking. Assets are frozen to protect the incapacitated and a stranger may be appointed to manage your parents’ affairs.
Your parents should choose a trusted family member, friend, or professional to serve as the Agent under the Power of Attorney, Trustee under a Revocable Living Trust, and Agent under the Health Care Power of Attorney. Successor Agents should also be named. If this trusted person is you, these legal documents will allow you to act on your parents’ behalf if they cannot act for themselves.
The Power of Attorney and Trust allow you to manage investments, pay bills, and take care of personal and real property (the house or condo). You can hire help for your parents if support is needed. This may be in home physical therapy, nursing care, and the like. It could also be a housekeeper or meal preparer.
If the bank and investment companies allow you to have signature authority on an account, go ahead and do that too. We never recommend putting your name on your parents’ assets as an owner for a multitude of reasons.
Also, be sure the institutions you are dealing with will accept the Power of Attorney drafted by your estate planning attorney. If not, ask for their Power of Attorney and get it executed as soon as possible. Some institutions will not accept outside Powers of Attorney because they don’t want to have to evaluate the legality and terms of each document and they do not know if it has been revoked. This is especially important for retirement accounts which must be owned in the individual’s name. When something is owned in an individual’s name, the Trustee (of the Revocable Living Trust) does not have any authority over that asset.
Powers of Attorneys are not magic wands. They work often, but not always. Revocable Living Trusts are almost always honored. So, it is important to have a comprehensive estate plan in place so, you, as Trustee can act on your parents’ behalf.
The Power of Attorney for Health Care allows you to make health care decisions for your parents if they cannot make such decisions themselves. HIPPA releases should be executed so that medical professionals can speak to you freely.
If you have any questions about what documents your parents should have in place so you can help them, please feel free to contact our office. We’d be happy to help you. 858-792-5988.