The documents every 18-year-old and other young adults need

Adults of all ages – including your 18-year-old – need certain estate planning documents. Despite the horror stories Estate of Denial® posts with regard to abuses involving wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney, one reality endures: while having these instruments is no guarantee they won’t be misused or offer a false sense of security, not having these documents in critical times can guarantee additional complications that are easily avoided. With that, there’s no time like the present to ensure young adults in your life have two important documents: a Medical Power of Attorney/Advance Directive with a HIPAA provision and a General Durable Power of Attorney.

In Estate Planning for Your Eighteen Year Old: What You Need to Do Now May Surprise You, attorney Lauren Rote provides an important explanation of the privacy rights and legal independence a minor child turning 18 brings:

For example, if your child is away at school or on the job and falls ill, you may assume you would be contacted and able to direct their care, as you always have done. After all, to you they are still your little girl or little boy. Then you may be surprised to find out that may not be the case. An 18 year-old has rights under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and medical professionals will require a release to be signed by your child before sharing their health care information or records with you. The same rule applies to mental health records, which may be particularly difficult to access without your child’s permission.

In the event your child is incapacitated, even temporarily, he or she will be unable to consent to you accessing their vital health records or authorize you to make decisions on their behalf. In the absence of such an authorization or release, you’ll likely find you are unable to act on their behalf and that court intervention is required for you to do so. In absence of the estate planning documents described below, you would need to file a petition with a court to be named your child’s legal guardian. This process can be time consuming, emotionally draining and expensive. For these reasons, it is a best practice to have your child put their wishes into written form as soon as they reach the age of majority (which is 18 years old in most states).

Not only are there the medical implications, but incapacitation can also create a need to access your child’s financial accounts or property (like an apartment). A power of attorney provides this access.

As at any other age, these are documents you hope may never be needed, but better to be safe than sorry.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As also a contributor at Raging Elephants Radio and News Radio 1400 KTEM, she writes and speaks on a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the creator and online producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses probate abuse via wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney as well as other taxpayer advocacy issues.

Commentary, Featured