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Why your 18-year-old needs some estate planning documents

On Behalf of | Aug 23, 2023 | Estate Planning

If this is the year that your child turned or will turn 18, they’re likely heading off to college or maybe taking a gap year to work or travel. Either way, you’re probably not thinking about estate planning documents for them, and they certainly aren’t. 

It’s important to know, however, that once they turn 18, you no longer automatically have any legal right to direct their medical care should they suffer an injury or illness that leaves them unable to speak for themselves. Thanks to the privacy protections afforded by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you don’t even have a legal right to information about their condition or care without their consent.

Advance directive for health care

It’s wise for everyone once they reach legal adulthood to give someone they trust the authority to oversee their medical care and – if necessary – their end-of-life care. This authority doesn’t have to be given to a parent. Your child may prefer to give it to a sibling, best friend or longtime partner. 

This is accomplished by getting an advance directive for health care. This lets people document their wishes for things like under what circumstances they want life-prolonging measures to be discontinued. It also allows them to designate an agent to make medical decisions on their behalf (based on the wishes designated in their directive) if they’re unable to do so.

POA for finances

It’s also a good idea for anyone who turns 18 to give someone power of attorney (POA) over their finances. This allows someone else to take over whichever financial matters they choose if they’re unable to manage them. This can include anything from paying bills to selling property.

It’s crucial to be sure the people given these authorities are agreeable to taking on the responsibilities if needed. They also need to be able to easily access a copy of them. The advance directive for health care should be on file with your personal physician (and the medical center at their university if applicable). If you’re traveling, you may want to keep a copy on your phone in case you land in the hospital while traveling.

None of these things is pleasant to think about. However, once you put the documents in place, you don’t have to think about them again (unless you want to change something). Having legal guidance will help make the process go more smoothly and ensure that the documents are valid.