Once a child turns 18, parents lose the legal ability to make decisions for their child or even to find out basic information. Learning you will not be able to see your college student’s grades without his/her permission can be mildly frustrating. But a medical emergency can take this frustration to a completely different level. The parents (or a sibling or another person) will probably 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, allow you to name another person to make medical and financial decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. The person(s) you select should be someone you know and trust, and a candid discussion should occur now so they know what your 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. Having these documents in place does not mean anyone expects to use them, but everyone will be glad to have them should they be needed.
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 you are unable to make them for yourself.
- A 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 in such a way that it does not go into effect until you become incapacitated.
- HIPPA Authorizations give your doctors permission to discuss your medical situation with others, including family members and other loved ones.
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. Tidy up your computer’s desktop. Make a list of accounts and passwords (including your computer’s password), print the list and put it in a safe place; a hard copy is important in case your computer is lost or stolen. If you use an online back-up system, be sure to include it. Don’t forget online accounts and social media. If there is anything you don’t want someone (think, parents) to see, either get rid of it now or ask a friend to delete files or remove things if something happens to you. Finally, update your documents as your life changes.