What You Need to Know
- Even a college student needs a health care proxy.
- Parents of young children should think about guardianship.
- People with substantial assets should consider the possibility of setting up a trust.
About 50% to 60% of Americans recently surveyed by LegalZoom said they don’t have a will, which is unfortunate, because 100% of the respondents queried for the data will, at one point, die. Death is an uncomfortable subject to talk about, and making plans that will never include you can be a surreal experience, but these are conversations that need to happen.
As a financial professional who helps clients with life insurance, you understand that better than almost anyone else who’s still alive.
You know that the best place to start is for your clients to do their estate planning while they’re healthy, fit, and in the right state of mind.
Your clients can ease the tragic and awful experience of losing a loved one for those they care about by having documents in place that stipulate how they want to be cared for in their last moments, how they want things done, and who gets what.
From a medical perspective, proper documentation gives family members peace of mind about the wishes of their loved ones, so there’s no guesswork around the treatment they would want if they enter a state where they are unable to make decisions for themselves.
Obviously, you should be encouraging your clients to seek advice about this topic from their legal advisors.
What else can you tell them when they object to the idea of caring about this topic?
Here are five ideas about what to say.
1. Even for young people, it’s essential to have some estate planning documents after you turn 18
If clients are young and you experience some sort of catastrophic accident, medical professionals will try to keep them alive for as long as possible. Take, for instance, the case of Hisashi Ouchi, a Japanese nuclear plant worker who received a dose of 17 sieverts of radiation, nearly three times the amount of those recorded in workers killed by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Ouchi’s skin and eyelids fell off, the lining of his intestines and all of his white blood cells died, and he suffered three heart attacks before finally succumbing to multiple organ failure 86 days after admission into the University of Tokyo hospital. While he could still speak, Ouchi reportedly said to his doctors, “I can’t take it anymore… I’m not a guinea pig.”
In a less severe but unfortunately more common situation, if a young person is involved in a serious car accident and they end up in a coma, their mother cannot tell the doctor what treatment they want, even if she claims their son or daughter might have told her what they wanted doctors to do in the past.
Because the child is over 18 years old and technically an adult, the courts get to decide.
Or, if it’s a college student involved in the same situation, their university may continue taking automatic tuition payments out of their account even if they are comatose. It’s evident that the student is not going back to school anytime soon, and they might need that money to cover treatment costs.
Still, without a power of attorney and proper documentation in place, there’s nothing the student’s family can do about it.
College students need to be made aware that their parents cannot make decisions for them, even if they are listed as emergency contacts unless they are given power of attorney or appointed as health care proxy. Young people might not be married, and they might not have very many resources.
Nonetheless, their designated agent or health care surrogate is almost more important than the fact that they have health care, because doctors will do whatever they can to keep a young person alive.
Young people also need to have something in place to allow loved ones access to funds (student loans or bank accounts) in the event that the worst-case scenario occurs because, by the time their family members have gone through the courts to stop tuition payments to the university, their comatose student’s limited bank account could be empty.
2. Retirees obviously need to keep their wills up to date.
For your retired clients, estate planning is not just about financial planning and retirement planning. It’s also about putting in place documents to secure retired clients’ quality of life and maintain relationships after they pass.