Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Natural Catastrophes and your Estate Plan

From the tornados that ripped through Alabama and Missouri just last month and the two catastrophic fires currently raging in south-eastern Arizona, Mother Nature has not been too kind lately.  And as hurricane season has officially begun, coastal cities hope they're not added to the casualty list.  Natural disasters like this serve as an apt metaphor and constant reminder of the importance of proper estate planning.

It is very hard to predict the exact time and severity of a natural disaster, so it is always important to be prepared.  Similarly, you just won't know when life's "tornado" will affect you and your loved ones, so taking the steps to create and execute an estate plan is also an important part in preparing for your future.

Many people have been lucky to survive these recent catastrophes, but still countless others have been injured and left disabled.  Disability planning is another crucial component in an effective estate plan.  Special needs trusts, health care directives, and powers of attorney are just a few of planning tools that most people overlook, to their peril, even if they do have an estate plan.

Also, because natural disasters--and any tragedies in life--are so unpredictable, it is imperative that you keep your plan up to date.  We recommend that you enroll in a formal maintenance program with your estate planning professional.  As an alternative, you should review your plan with an estate planning attorney once every two years, and after a significant life change has occurred such as divorce or a new child.

Be prepared for the unexpected by ensuring that you have a thorough, effective estate plan in place before you get caught out in the rain.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June is Gay and Lesbian Pride Month!

Since 2000, June has been declared Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.  This designation is based on the principle that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) individuals should be able to live openly, without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

At Kristel K. Patton, P.C., we believe that this is also a good time to consider estate planning needs that are unique to members of the LGBT community.  Certain legal documents, for example, should be drafted differently for LGBT individuals or couples (e.g., in states where a couple cannot be legally married.)  And still other documents take on added significance.

On this latter point, we advise all our LGBT clients to have us prepare advance healthcare directives, the legal documents needed in a hospital emergency to make sure one's healthcare wishes are honored.  We do this because we know that without these documents, our LGBT clients could be prevented from having the person of their choice as their medical decision-maker.

On a positive note, as mentioned in our previous blog post, there has been some recent legal progress on healthcare equality for LGBT folks:  As of last fall, hospitals are now required to permit all patients to have any visitor they choose, including a same-sex partner or other non-relative.  Nonetheless, if the patient can't speak for him or herself and hasn't put these wishes in writing, the door is still open for a family member to try to ban a same-sex partner and others from visiting at the very time when they are need most--at the patient's bedside.

At Kristel K. Patton, P.C., we also recognize that creating advance directives is not enough.  It's a known fact that most people do not carry these documents around with them.  And, it's also a known fact that they can be needed quickly, especially for an LGBT patient.  This is why we provide all our clients enrolled in our Empowered Legacy Planning process with membership in the DocuBank Healthcare Directives Registry, free of charge.  With this registry, a wallet card provides immediate access to our clients' healthcare directives 24/7/365, so that documentation can be produced and the wishes of each of our clients can be protected at a moment's notice.

It's also worth noting that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) recently announced its new status as an LGBT Affiliate of DocuBank.  The largest LGBT civil rights organization in the nation, HRC has team up with this registry to help its members ensure that they can produce the legal proof of their wishes when it counts.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Who Can Visit You in the Hospital? Anyone You Want!

We've all experienced it.  We wanted to visit a friend or relative in the hospital, but were told that visits were restricted to immediate family members.

No More!  Under new federal regulations, hospitals are now required to allow patients to have any visitors they want.

This new policy, which took effect in November 2010, recognizes that a patient should be able to choose whoever they'd like to be at their bedside.  Hospital care should be as "patient-centered" as possible, not guided by blanket rules designed to make life easier for hospital staff.  The policy recognizes that it's important for the patient to have the person who knows the patient's medical condition best to be present to talk with hospital staff, especially if the patient has difficulty recalling or communicating their own medical information.  In many cases, this person is not always a member of the patient's immediate family or "next of kin."

Of course, hospitals have the right--and the responsibility--to limit this visitor permission in certain circumstances, such as infection control, bad behavior of visitors, and other circumstances that would "jeopardize the care of the patient or other patients."  But these limitations are expected to be the rare exception rather than the rule.

So, while it's still probably not a good idea to invite the entire neighborhood to a party in your hospital room, you now have a great deal more control over which smiling faces you invite to come by and spend time with you.  And that can mean a lot!