Estate Planning Issues Affecting the Sandwich Generation

If you're a member of the Sandwich Generation, make sure your parents and adult children have the necessary estate planning documents in place.
If you’re a member of the Sandwich Generation, make sure your parents and adult children have the necessary estate planning documents in place.

July is National Sandwich Generation Month, a time to honor those who are caring for both their children and their aging parents. This is a particularly stressful time for members of the Sandwich Generation who may not only be parenting their children but also spending the last few months homeschooling them. Older children who have lost their jobs or were unable to return to college after spring break due to the coronavirus may now be living at home. At the same time, members of the Sandwich Generation may be acting as caregivers for parents who are no longer able to look after themselves, or who are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

Some of the stress of caregiving can be alleviated by making sure your aging parents and adult children have legally valid and up-to-date estate planning documents in place, and if they do not, encouraging them to have these important documents prepared. This is a relatively simple step to ensure that there will be no delays or uncertainty if you have to take action in an emergency to make medical and financial decisions for them. If they have the necessary estate planning documents in place, you will have the peace of mind in knowing that you will be able to avoid delays when you need to act quickly to preserve their safety and well-being.

What estate planning documents should you have for any person in your care?

  • A financial power of attorney – This will allow you to pay bills, manage financial accounts, file tax returns, talk to insurance companies, deal with issues related to benefits, hire a caregiver, and sell property on behalf of your parents. A financial power of attorney is also helpful in the event you need to handle financial matters on behalf of your adult child (over the age of eighteen), for example, cashing a paycheck for your child or signing a new lease on your child’s behalf.
  • A medical power of attorney – A medical power of attorney enables you to make health care decisions for your parents, if they are unable to do so themselves.  A medical power of attorney is also important for your children who are 18 or older. Once your child reaches age 18, you no longer have the authority to make medical decisions for your child.
  • A HIPAA Authorization – The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires medical records to be kept private unless an individual consents in writing to sharing of protected health information with a named individual. If you are your parents’ caregiver, they should fill out a HIPAA authorization permitting your parents’ health care providers to keep you informed about their medical conditions and treatments. You should also keep in mind that you are not authorized to receive any medical information regarding a child of yours who is 18 or older. If your adult child wishes you to be involved in his or her health care you need a HIPAA authorization signed by the child allowing you to receive his or her medical information.

It is crucial for your parents to put these estate planning documents in place before they develop any cognitive loss that would prevent them from having the capacity to sign a legal document. If they develop dementia, for example, and are not able to understand the objective or content of a power of attorney or other document, they will be legally unable to execute the document. In that case, you will have to go to a court and ask to be appointed your parents’ guardian to manage their health care and financial affairs.

It is also important that these documents be put in place by your adult child, regardless of any health conditions, because once your child is a legal adult, you can no longer automatically act on your child’s behalf. The worst case scenario is that your adult child is unconcious or in an accident and you are unable to quickly get information from your child’s health care providers.

Members of the Sandwich Generation do not always remember to take steps to lighten their load. But one important step that can make things easier for you as a caregiver is to make sure that your parents and adult children have the necessary estate planning documents in place so that you can quickly make decisions on their behalf if you are called upon to do so.

For more information see https://www.galliganmanning.com/everyone-needs-an-estate-plan/