Most young people don’t expect that they will ever become seriously ill or injured. And while that may not be likely, it is possible. We all know of a young adult who suddenly became ill, or was seriously injured in an accident or was an innocent victim of crime.
And while parents may always consider their child to be “their child,” the law might not. Once a child turns 18, parents no longer have the legal ability to make decisions for their child or find out basic information. As parents, we’ve all been mildly irritated when we find out we cannot have access to college grades without our child’s permission (even though we are paying the bills). Well, just imagine how much more frustrating this can be if there is a medical emergency.
Parents or a sibling may have to go to court and ask for permission to learn about the young adult’s medical condition, to be able to make decisions about treatment, and have access to financial records and accounts. If your young adult refuses medical treatment and wants to live among the homeless on the streets, a judge can decide that is his own decision to make!
The following legal documents, prepared by an estate planning attorney, are not expensive—and every person over the age of 18 should have them. They allow you to name another person to make medical and financial decisions for you if you are not able to make them for yourself.
Parents (or grandparents) may want to schedule a meeting with their estate planning attorney after each child’s 18 birthday, and encourage other parents to do the same. Having these documents prepared does not mean anyone expects to use them, but everyone will be relieved to have them if they are needed.
Advanced Healthcare Directive (also called Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care): This document lets you legally name someone as your health care agent/proxy to make health care decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself. Without one, the court could get involved, especially if your family members and/or the medical community disagree about your care.
Living Will: This simple document lets your doctors know the kind of life support treatment you would want in case of a terminal illness or injury when death is imminent. It may or may not be honored by itself, but it lets your health care agent/proxy know what you would want so he/she can make these decisions for you.
HIPAA Affidavit: This gives your written consent for doctors to discuss your medical situation with family members, close friends, clergy and others you specify.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney: Gives another person legal authority to manage your assets without court interference. (A “regular” power of attorney ends at incapacity; a “durable” power of attorney remains valid through incapacity.) Your attorney can write it so that it does not go into effect until you become incapacitated.
Simple Will: Most young adults do not have substantial assets so a simple will is probably sufficient for now. It lets you designate whom you want to receive your assets and belongings in the event you die. Otherwise, the laws of the state in which you live will determine this, and that might not be what anyone would want.