Most young adults think they are invincible. But the reality is that anyone, at any time, can become seriously ill or be injured in an accident or a random act of violence. Unfortunately, we've all heard stories about the tragedy of a promising young life that was abruptly cut short, or, even may know someone personally who was affected.
Once a child turns 18, parents lose the legal ability to make decisions for their child or even to find out basic information. For parents, learning that they will not be able to see their college student’s grades without his/her permission can be mildly frustrating. However, a medical emergency can take this frustration to a completely different level. In the event that the student is incapacitated, without planning documents, parents (or a sibling or another person) will likely have to go to court and ask for permission to obtain information about the student’s medical condition, be able to make decisions about treatment, and have access to the student’s financial records and accounts.
The following legal documents, prepared by an estate planning attorney, will allow the young adult to name another person to make medical and financial decisions for them if they are unable to make them for themselves. The person(s) they select should be someone they know and trust, and a candid discussion should occur now so they know what their wishes would be. These documents are not expensive, and everyone over the age of 18 should have them.
Parents should consider scheduling a visit with their estate planning attorney after each child’s 18th birthday, and encourage other parents to do the same with their young adults. Everyone hopes never to have to make an insurance claim, but in the event of a catstrophic loss, they are glad that they have insurance in place. The same holds true for estate planning documents for young adults. Hopefully they won't be needed, but if they are, families are extremely relieved and can take some comfort in knowing that the right decisions can be made.
In the Event of Incapacity
- A Durable Power of Attorney for Heath Care gives another person legal authority to make health care decisions (including life and death decisions) if the individual is unable to make them for him/herself.
- A Durable Financial Power of Attorney gives another person legal authority to manage the individual's assets without court interference. (A “regular” power of attorney ends at incapacity; a “durable” power of attorney remains valid through incapacity.) An attorney can write it in such a way that it does not go into effect until the individual become incapacitated as determined by a physician.
- HIPAA Authorizations give your doctors and other medical care providers permission to discuss the individual's medical situation with others, including parents or other family members.
In the Event of Death
Most young adults do not have substantial assets, so a simple will is probably all that is needed at this time. It will let the young adult designate who should receive his/her assets and belongings in the event of death. Otherwise, the laws of the state in which the young adult lives will determine this, and that may not be what anyone would want.
After the Documents Have Been Signed
A little housecleaning may be in order. It is important that the designated person knows where to find financial records and passwords if needed. Young adults should make a list of accounts and passwords (including their computer’s password), print the list and put it in a safe place; a hard copy is important in case the computer is lost or stolen. If they use an online back-up system, be sure to include it. Don’t forget online accounts and social media. Finally, be sure to update documents as the young adult's life changes. "Milestone events" such as marriage or the birth of a child could have significant impacts on how the young adult should plan.
The estate planning documents that a young adult should have in place are, in most cases, relatively simple and inexpensive for an estate planning attorney to prepare, but they are, as noted above, critically important to have. Otherwise, unanticipated and undesirable consequences can result. However, even in this "tech-savvy" age, care should be taken not to rely on cookie-cutter or online estate planning documents, or, even worse, those for sale in an office supply store. Only an experienced estate planning attorney will consider all of the ramifications and has the state-specific knowledge to make sure that the young adult is properly protected.
Andy Schwartz is an attorney concentrating in estate planning, elder law, special needs planning and real estate law. He is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (508) 587-6000 with questions or comments, or check out his website at www.brocktonlaw.com.
The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice, nor is it intended to create an attorney-client relationship. For specific legal advice regarding a specific legal issue please contact Attorney Schwartz or another attorney for assistance.