Especially Because of COVID-19, College Students Really Need an Estate Plan Now

I’ve posted about this topic before here and here in general, but with COVID cases rising at college campuses across the country, parents may find themselves scrambling to communicate with doctors from a distance. If your child is age 18 and over, then legally speaking, your child is no longer a child. The age of majority for making your own decisions is age 18 in the United States. So college students, for the first time, are often without parental supervision. So, just like any other adult, they need legally enforceable directions in place about who they authorize to handle their medical and financial decisions for them if they cannot in the event of death or incapacity.

If your college student is in the hospital for COVID-19 or any other reason, parents are often surprised that doctors won’t talk to you unless your child has authorized you to speak for them as their agent with a validly executd power of attorney for their medical and financial responsibilities. Even banks won’t give you access to their accounts, even if you still have the same last name or address as your kid, unless you have a power of attorney authorizing you to do so. Also, even if your child has named you as their emergency contact with the school, things get murky if they have to be taken off campus for emergency or medical treatment.

So, at a minimum, your child, if he or she is over 18, needs the following documents in place:

  1. Durable Power of Attorney
  2. Living Will & Patient Advocate Designation
  3. HIPAA Authorization Form
  4. Last Will & Testament

Estate Planning During this Pandemic

I am just going to jump right into it – there is no better time to be proactive about your estate planning. There is nothing but uncertainty for all of us these next few weeks. The best we can do is be as prepared as we can. Now that we will all be staying close to home for a while, take advantage of this time to talk about your estate plan with your family.

I am sharing this worksheet with you to start organizing your thoughts. I give this worksheet to all new clients at the beginning of our relationship but even if you are not quite ready, I encourage you to still use this worksheet however you see fit to start the conversation with your family.

Stay safe, stay at home (seriously), and try to stay sane.

And wash your hands!

What is the difference between a Living Will and a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) order?

Although the terms “living will” or “advance directive” are sometimes used interchangeably with a “do-not-resuscitate order” or “DNR order”, they are not the same thing.

A DNR is an order signed by a doctor which indicates that the patient should not be resuscitated.   This has to be signed by both the doctor and the patient (or their healthcare agent).  Click here to see what a Michigan DNR may look like.

Living Will, on the other hand, is a legal document that allows you to state whether you wish to be kept alive by artificial means if you are terminally ill, in a persistent vegetative state or in an end-stage condition.  You can state specific preferences as to whether you wish to be kept alive with life support or other medical treatments. 

Any questions? Contact me.

Transferring Vehicles at Death in Michigan

Generally, assets subject to Probate proceedings include those owned in the individual name of the decedent. For example, real property in your sole name is subject to Probate. Other examples: bank/investment accounts in your sole name, life insurance policies that have your estate as the beneficiary, personal property, and so on. There is one exception related to vehicles: if you own motor vehicles with a total value not exceeding $60,000 and these would have been the only Probate asset, then your next closest kin may transfer them without opening a Probate estate proceeding. MCL 257.236(2).

Transferring a vehicle at death in Michigan can come with a variety of different steps depending on who the surviving heirs are. Here’s a list of common scenarios outlined by the Michigan Secretary of State:

  • Surviving Spouse. If there is a surviving spouse, he/she is the next of kin who will receive the vehicle but first, he/she must complete the form to transfer the vehicle. Even if it will be transferred to another immediate family member, this form still needs to be completed. After the transfer, the license plate may remain on the vehicle.
  • No Surviving Spouse; Surviving Siblings. If there is no surviving spouse, and there are several closest next-of-kin (e.g., multiple brothers or sisters), all share an equal inheritance. Those with no interest in the vehicle must complete a certification statement to this effect.  If they wish, the next-of-kin may add a co-owner at the time of titling.  If the co-owner is not an immediate family relative of the deceased or is not the spouse of the closest next-of-kin who is inheriting the vehicle, the co-owner is liable for use tax.
  • Probate Proceedings. If the estate is being probated, the Personal Representative assigns the deceased’s title.  If assigned to the deceased’s spouse or a family member, that person presents the title and a copy of the Personal Representative’s Letter of Authority at a Secretary of State branch office to title the vehicle in their name. 
  • Joint Title. If the vehicle is jointly titled in your name and the deceased’s name with “Full Rights to Survivor” printed on it, then all that is needed to transfer the vehicle into your name is the title and a copy of the death certificate.  It does not matter if the deceased’s estate is being probated.

Contact me if you have any questions.

It’s National Estate Planning Awareness Week!

In 2008, Congress recognized the need for the public to understand the benefits of estate planning by designating the third week of October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week. That’s this week!

Estate planning is one of the most overlooked areas of personal financial planning and management.  Even though 76% of adults know estate planning is important, a 2019 survey carried out by shows that 57% of Americans have no estate documents prepared. Some of the respondents ascribed this to procrastination, but many others mistakenly believed that this process is for the wealthy or the retired.  Estate Planning is for everyone! 

Estate planning is an important process that can help protect you, your family, and your assets.  Proper planning saves you and your loved ones time and money, passes your assets in the way you want, provides clear direction during any period of mental incapacity, determines care for your minor children. Ultimately, it bestows some peace of mind.

This week is the perfect time to make sure your affairs are in order in the event of sickness, an accident, or death.   Contact me for a free initial consultation.  If you already have a plan, it’s a good time to review your plan to make needed adjustments to beneficiary designations or modify retirement accounts and insurance policies. 

The Benefit of Flowcharts

Going through all of your estate planning documents page-by-page can be overwhelming (and exhausting). Believe me, there’s a reason why estate planning attorneys include all of these provisions and pages. But to make it easier for you in the decision-making phase and in the document review phase, many of us use flowcharts or a similar visual to help you understand the overall picture of your estate plan.

Below is a sample for a married couple with a Joint Trust:

This is especially helpful in my practice which is 100% virtual. I usually have a flowchart in front of both me and my clients via a screen-share during video conferences – they can see the edits I make to the flowcharts and ask questions as we go through it.

They can also review it on their own and mark up their own questions or changes after they’ve had time to sit on some open issues before sending it back to me.

What Documents are part of a Comprehensive Estate Plan?

Everyone has their own unique estate plan spelled out in the details, but generally, I draft the following documents for my Michigan clients as part of a comprehensive estate plan:

  1. Last Will and Testament
  2. Revocable Living Trust
  3. Certificate of Trust
  4. Durable Power of Attorney
  5. Living Will & Patient Advocate Designation
  6. HIPAA Authorization Form
  7. Michigan Funeral Representative Designation
  8. Flowchart
  9. Trust Funding Instructions (if your plan includes a Trust)

If you are married, then you and your spouse will each have one of each document. If your plan includes a Trust it may include one Joint Revocable Living Trust unless there are other factors that would require two separate Revocable Living Trusts. Read on here for more about Joint Trusts versus Separate Trusts.

There may be other documents that are necessary, such as a Deed for your real estate, but these are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Contact me here or at if you have any questions.

Back-to-School: A good time for Estate Planning

Summer is winding down and tomorrow my kids return to school! It reminded me that now is really a wonderful time for all busy parents to tackle their estate planning goals before the end of the year. Whether your children are little or headed off to college, you’re busy settling into a new routine. Estate planning is probably the last thing on your mind. But it really should be top of mind – the beginning of a new school year can actually be a perfect time.

During this time, most parents are filling out emergency contact forms which are critical for the safety of your child. You must list who the school should call in case of an emergency when parents can’t be reached, and who might be authorized to make medical decisions for your child if their parents are unavailable. The names you put on these forms a great way to start thinking about who you love and trust enough to serve as their guardians should anything happen to you. Make sure your estate plan documents are in order to ensure their safety.

If your children are off to college, your child is essentially considered an adult. This means that hospitals, doctors, and nurses are no longer required to ask your permission before performing medical procedures. In fact, once your child turns 18, health care providers are no longer allowed to share information with the parents at all. Read on here and here for more on what your college-aged children need.

So, yes, updated vaccinations, school supplies, a new backpack, and new shoes and clothes may be what your children need today but your entire family needs a solid estate plan too for the future.

Contact me here or email me at for help guiding you in this process!

Powers of Attorney FAQs

What is a Power of Attorney?

By using a power of attorney, you ( the “principal”) appoint an agent to act for yourself to handle your affairs.

Specifically, a health care power of attorney allows an agent to act on your behalf for health care decisions and a durable power of attorney enables an agent to make decisions on your behalf regarding your finances.

What about my financial affairs?

Your agent would take over on handling your finances whenever you would like (i.e., effectively immediately or only upon your incapacity).

It can be immediately, meaning that the agent can make any decision for you that you could make right now. This is often common for spouses and for children of elderly parents who struggle with mobility or have physical limitations.

On the other hand, the power of attorney can be drafted so that the agent can step on only when you are unable to. This could be for medical reasons or mental incapacity, travel, military duty.

What about my health affairs?

I draft a “Living Will & Patient Advocate Designation” document which serves two purposes:

The Living Will sets out your wishes regarding medical treatment and care should you become incapacitated and cannot make these decisions.

The Patient Advocate Designation (a.k.a health care power of attorney) designates an agent that will make your medical decisions.

Who should have powers of attorney in place?

Everyone should have these in place once they turn 18. Regardless of health or danger in employment, anyone can end up in a situation where he or she needs someone else to make those decisions. Also, make sure to keep it updated as your relationships with these people can easily change over the years.

Contact me to set up an appointment to meet with you to discuss your estate planning objectives.

Is it time to update your Estate Plan?

For many of us, designing an estate plan seems like something you’d rather do only once and be done with forever. However, it’s critical to review your estate plan every few years or after major life changes. When starting a new plan, I always tell my clients to think of it as a five-year plan. And there are a few clear signs that it’s time to re-evaluate your estate plan:

1. Your Family Has Grown

The birth or adoption of a child changes everything, literally. Including your estate plan. It’s so important to include them in your Will by naming a guardian for your minor children. Or if you have grandchildren, perhaps you’d like to include them in your estate plan in some way.

2. The death or illness of a family member or fiduciary.

If someone you love has passed away and this person is named in your estate plan documents, you should evaluate the impact of his/her death on your plan and other beneficiaries. Similarly, if this is a person you had appointed as a fiduciary, such as a Principal under your Living Will & Patient Advocate Designation, you would need to ensure you have a back-up Principal to serve.

3. Marriage or Divorce.

When your legal relationship status changes one way or the other, your estate plan documents will need to be updated to reflect this.

4. Your Assets Have Changed in Value

Whenever the state of your assets shifts significantly, it’s important to revisit your estate plan. If you won the lottery, inherited assets, sold property, or acquired new wealth in some other way, you will need to ensure that your estate plan accounts for your new assets.

So how do I review my Estate Plan?

I will take the time to get to know you and your family during a free initial consultation and design a personalized estate plan. Given the virtual nature of my practice, I will ask for PDF copies of your current estate plan documents before we meet.

Contact me with any questions!