The Sandwich Generation and the Importance of Powers of Attorney
If you’ve got a child headed off to college this month, then you are likely among the group identified in a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center as “the sandwich generation”. The study revealed that roughly 47% of adults in their 40’s and 50’s find themselves “sandwiched” between two generations that need their help – caring for children at home and/or financially supporting kids at university, while also providing a variety of supports to an aging parent.
You may find yourself at or nearing this phase of your life. Understandably, it can feel overwhelming; but there are things you can do to prepare and to make the task before you more manageable. MarketWatch’s 6 Lessons for the Sandwich Generation can provide some additional areas to think about, but for our purposes, we’ll stick to the legal documents that you’ll need to care for your aging parents and college-aged child if the time comes that they need you to be their voice or their representative.
What documents do I need? And why do I need them?
- Durable Power of Attorney: This document lets an individual name the person they trust to represent them concerning financial matters during their lifetime. In the event your parent or college-aged child becomes incapacitated, they’ll need someone to pay the bills, talk to the financial institutions and just generally manage their financial affairs. It can also be customized to address specific areas, such as Medicaid planning. This will be where an attorney’s expertise will be very helpful.
- Be sure to keep this document up-to-date: in general, financial institutions are extremely cautious when it comes to accepting powers of attorney, so keep it current (not more than 5 years old) and not unnecessarily broad, so that you don’t provide any reasons to refuse to recognize the document.
- Medical Power of Attorney: This document lets an individual name the person(s) they trust to make medical decisions on their behalf during any time of incapacity. This is a very personal, very important document to have. It also has great value in the comfort it can give to an individual – especially someone who is anticipating the need due to serious illness. Along with executing the document, this is the perfect opportunity to have some talks with the proposed “agents” about what the individual’s wishes are – that could be choice of doctor or hospital, any pertinent medical history, or what they want for end of life care.
- When your child turns 18, he or she is now legally an adult; this means that the rights you’ve had as a parent are not terminated in the eyes of the law. If you do not have authority granted to you by your child with the proper legal documents, medical professionals will not speak with you about your child’s care; hospitals will not even tell you if your child is a patient. It feels so counter-intuitive that most people simply don’t consider the need for these legal documents, but they are absolutely vital.
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA): This Federal law is essentially a privacy rule designed to ensure medical records and health information – whether electronic, written or oral – are only seen by an individual’s healthcare professionals and those they’ve given express permission to. This express permission is given by signing a HIPAA Release and naming the person(s) the individual authorizes to have access to such information. In other words, medical providers must have a signed HIPAA with your name listed in order to speak with you about your parent or child’s care.
- Living Will: Also known as an “Advance Directive” or “Directive to Physicians”, this document gives an individual the opportunity to state their preferences regarding end of life decisions. Most of us remember the sad case of Terry Schaivo and the family turmoil and tug-of-war regarding whether to keep her on life support. An individual can relieve a great burden for their loved-ones with this document – and not just by curtailing family disagreements. As the decision maker, bearing the weight of a life and death situation, it is a comfort to know that your decision is honoring the wishes of your parent or child on whether they would want to remain on life support if there was no chance of survival without it.
You need each of these documents because, as the person your loved one is relying on, you must have the legal authority to do the things that need to be done – and you don’t want to spend precious time and money jumping through legal hoops in the midst of an already difficult situation.
Who do I need these documents from?
You’ll need these documents from your parents or any other individual that you know might end up relying on you for support sometime in the future – an aunt or uncle, an unmarried sibling with an illness or disability that is likely to worsen, etc. You’re also going to want these documents from your kids before they head off to college.
When do I need them?
You need to have them before you need them. In other words – the sooner the better. Talk with your parents or other loved ones today about whether they have seen an estate planning attorney to have their will and powers of attorney executed. Now for your newly minted adult child, you’ll want to get them soon after they turn 18, because that is when they are emancipated and the law will no longer recognize you as having any authority in your child’s life – unless they expressly give it to you through these documents.