Activating Your Estate Plan

A core piece of advice that I give to almost all of my clients is to have their basic estate planning documents—a last will and testament, a financial power of attorney, and an advanced health care directive—in place.  After clients sign these documents, they often ask me what the next steps should be; to whom should they give these documents?

A financial power of attorney should be provided to your banks and other financial institutions.  The banks will probably want to see an original of the document.  For this reason, I always provide my clients with two original power of attorney documents in the binders that I provide to my clients.  In this way, if the client has to mail one original power of attorney to a bank or other financial institution, the client still retains another original power of attorney in his possession.

Now, I don’t know if a bank is going to want to see an original of the power of attorney.  My opinion that the bank would want to see an original is based upon my guess given what I would want if I were an attorney for the bank.  But I’ve never been an attorney for a bank, so I don’t really know what a bank would want.

This is often the problem when clients ask me what some third-party will want.  I can’t really answer the question because the question depends on what some third-party will do.

If I were my client, what I would suggest is that they go to their bank after signing my documents and put the power of attorney on file with the bank.  The bank might want the client and the person the client named as her agent to sign certain documents with the bank, such as a signature card.

If the client goes to the bank soon after signing the power of attorney, then the client still has the mental and physical wherewithal to sign whatever documents that the bank may ask the client to sign.  If the client’s agent—probably a child of the client—waits to put the power of attorney on file with the bank when the client can no longer handle her affairs, then there is a much greater likelihood that the client will not be able to sign any documents the bank wants the client to sign.

While this may not get in the way of the bank honoring the power of attorney, why not simply comply with what the bank wants if what the bank wants isn’t too burdensome.  Putting the documents on file early and complying with the bank’s requirements right away, gets the power of attorney in place and functional.  If the client’s agent needs to use the power of attorney in the future, the document is there waiting to be used.

The bank may even want the client to sign their power of attorney document.  I would recommend that the client sign the bank’s power of attorney document.  Once again, it’s a small task and it eliminates potential problems down the road.

With an advanced health care directive, I recommend that clients put these documents on file with their doctors.  I also recommend that the client bring the directive to the hospital the next time the client goes to the hospital.  (Or a family member could bring the document to the hospital if the visit is an emergency.)

Medical records are computerized nowadays, so your doctor and the hospital should be able to scan the advanced health care directive into your records.  In this way, the document will be part of your permanent record.

Your doctor also may suggest that you complete other health care directives with him, such as a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment or POLST.  A POLST is a medical record that your physician will complete with you.

A good estate plan involves having good documents drafted for you and putting those documents into the hands of the people who need them.