Yes, You Do Need an Estate Plan When You Turn 18


Do I Really Need an Estate Plan at 18?

Yes, you really do need an estate plan when you turn eighteen. Congratulations! You turned eighteen. You are now officially an adult. 

So what does that mean? Well, for starters, you are now responsible for making your decisions. Perhaps you are college bound or are starting a job. But did you ever stop and wonder who would make decisions on your behalf if something happened to you?

Who would make decisions for you if something happened?

Let me ask you a question. Who would make decisions for you if something happened to you as an adult?

“Oh sure, my parents will continue to make those decisions for me. That’s what parents’ do.” However, what if I told you that when you turn eighteen, your parents’ rights in making health care decisions and financial decisions on your behalf decreases a lot? 

“But my parents pay my health insurance, they pay my college tuition,” you sputter. “Of course my parents can make decisions for me if I am unable to do so.”

Unfortunately, none of those factors may matter. When you turn eighteen, you become an adult. The law states that you are responsible for your financial and medical decisions. Technically, no one else can make those decisions for you unless you give permission.

Kelly’s Story

Meet Kelly. Kelly is a bright young college student. Kelly is studying microbiology at an Ivy League school. She plans on going to medical school when she graduates.

For Spring Break, Kelly decides to drive to the beach to visit her boyfriend, Ken. On the way to the beach, Kelly is involved in a multiple car accident. Kelly is rushed to the hospital with a possible brain injury.

Kelly’s parents learn of her accident and rush to the hospital. They demand answers but the doctors cannot give them any information about Kelly. Why not? Kelly is their daughter and she is under their health insurance plan.

Well, by law, medical professionals are prohibited from revealing your medical records to anyone but you. You must give either prior authorization or current authorization to allow someone else to access your medical records and make medical decisions for you.

You see, if you are eighteen or older and hospitalized, doctors and nurses do not have to consult with family members or significant others about your medical decision. Likewise, they do not have to follow any one else’s decisions for your health care decisions. That means if you are in a coma for instance, your parents would most likely not be permitted to tell the doctors what care they would like for you to receive. In that case, your parents would most likely have to go to court and obtain a guardianship action to act on your behalf. In the meantime, you are most likely at the mercy of a stranger’s medical decisions.

What can you do?

Now, I do not know about you, but I do not want some strange doctor making decisions on my behalf. I like to be in charge of my own decisions. So, if you are like me, and would like to have your health care wishes carried out, then you should sign a healthcare power of attorney. With a Healthcare Power of Attorney, you get to appoint someone to access your medical records and make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to effectively communicate with your doctor. A Healthcare Power of Attorney also allows you state what medical procedures you would want given in certain situations.

Keep in mind, as long as you can effectively communicate with your doctor, you will continue to make medical decisions on your behalf. The Health Care Power of Attorney power only kicks in when you are unable to communicate with, or understand, your doctor. When that happens, your agent steps in and makes those decisions for you. Your agent can access you medical records and authorize treatment for you.

When you execute a Health care Power of Attorney, you choose who will be your agent. You choose what decisions your agent can or cannot make for you. This way, you remain in control of your medical care even when you are physically or mentally unable to make those decisions for yourself. Once you recover, you go back to making your own medical decisions.

What about end of life decisions?

Have you ever thought about what you would want done if you were brain dead? How about if you had a terminal illness and there was nothing more medically that could be done. Would you want life saving measures taken if your heart stopped?

Granted, no one likes to think about these situations. However, if you know what you might want done in these type of situations, you may wish to execute an Advance Directive or Living Will.

This documents enables you to instruct you loved ones about your end of life decisions. You can flat out say you no longer want to receive medical treatment in certain situations. Or, you can express your intent but allow your agents the flexibility to make the final decision. Alternatively, you can also state you want every possible life saving measure taken.

Such a document helps alleviate family arguments over what you might have wanted done. Your loved ones can make painful decisions knowing that you wanted those decisions made.

The Advance Directive document is usually executed at the same time as the Health Care Power of Attorney.

What about financial decisions?

Likewise, you should also sign a Durable Power of Attorney to allow your parents, or any other responsible adult of your choosing, to make financial decisions on your behalf. Again, let’s say you are in the hospital. Your parents, through the Durable Power of Attorney, could write checks to pay your bills, access your bank accounts and keep you from potentially ending up in collections and having a bad credit rating. Your parents could continue to pay your rent or mortgage so that you will have a home to return to when you are released from the hospital.

Similar to the Health Care Power of Attorney, the Durable Power of Attorney lets you chose someone to act as your agent. However, this person is responsible for making financial decisions for you. Just like the Health Care Power of Attorney, you continue to make those decisions on your own as long as you are capable of doing so. Your agent only acts when you become incapacitated. For example, you sustain a traumatic brain injury or develop an advance state of Alzheimers.

Life Happens

Life happens. So you need to be prepared. When you turn eighteen, you should start thinking about your future. Ask yourself what would happen in an emergency situation? Who do you want to make decisions for you – a trusted loved one or a stranger? If you answered a trusted loved one, then you need to execute a Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney.

Keep in mind that as long as you are able to act on your behalf, you will continue to handle your medical and financial affairs. However, having a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Durable Power of Attorney ensures that someone of your choosing will be able to act on your behalf in the event of an emergency.

So, just like your parents, adult children need to create an estate plan. While you are shopping for dorm room furnishings and attending college orientations, take some time to think about estate planning. At the very least, meet with an estate planning attorney to sign a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Durable Power of Attorney. Besides being smart and responsible, you may be the coolest kid in school. After all, how many young adults can drop lines like “I need to speak with my estate planning attorney” or “How can you not have an estate plan?”

Let us know if you need help getting started with your estate plan.