Case Estate Law

Cape Cod | Martha’s Vineyard | Nantucket

Cape Cod | Martha’s Vineyard | Nantucket

One of the most exciting moments of your high school career is the final moment when your Principal hands you the diploma and you skip merrily off into the next phase of your life – adulthood. Whether you are heading straight to college, taking a gap year, traveling abroad, starting an apprenticeship, or making a beeline for the workforce, take a (well-deserved) moment to celebrate all that you have achieved thus far.

For many people, high school graduation coincides with another major milestone – turning 18 years old. In the United States, once you turn 18, you are legally an adult. As an adult it is important to think about certain documents which were NOT handed to you along with the high school diploma, nor likely covered in your school curriculum: your estate planning documents.

So prior to skipping off into the sunset to enjoy all the benefits of adulthood, consider this important fact:

  • Now that you are of legal age, your parents or legal guardians can no longer access your important records without your consent, nor can they make financial or health related decisions for you, without your permission.

Before suddenly doing the “Happy Dance” at your newfound freedom and privacy, consider this additional sobering fact:

  • If you have not designated in writing who you wish to speak for you if you can’t handle your own financial affairs, or who can make health related decisions for you, then your parents or legal guardians will be unable to do so if you need them to.

In other words, in an emergency situation, if you were incapacitated, your parents and legal guardians COULD NO LONGER make decisions for your benefit without being given prior permission by you in writing, or being appointed by the court.

Fortunately, a simple estate plan can ensure that you have designated “agents,” or people who can make decisions on your behalf, in case of emergency. The documents below are essential to any young adult’s estate plan:

  • A GENERAL DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY (a/k/a POA) lets you name the person(s) who can manage your financial affairs if you are unable to do so.
    • This agent would be able to access your accounts, pay bills, and handle all financial related aspects of your life, so make sure this is a person who is trustworthy, responsible, and pays bills on time.
  • A HEALTH CARE PROXY (a/k/a/ HEALTH CARE POWER OF ATTORNEY or HCP) lets you nominate the person(s) you wish to have the power to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so for yourself.
    • If you are even remotely on the fence about whether you need this document, a quick Google search will reveal court cases in which it was unclear as to who was allowed to make medical decisions for an incapacitated young adult.
  • An AUTHORIZATION FOR RELEASE OF (YOUR) PROTECTED HEALTH INFORMATION (a/k/a HIPAA) gives you control over who can access your health records.
    • Although some states incorporate the language of this document into their HCP (see above), in many states it is important to have as a separate document.
  • A LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT (a/k/a WILL) allows you to name your personal representatives who can manage your estate if you pass away, and allows you to leave your assets and specific items to your loved ones.
    • If you plan on leaving everything to your parents or legal guardians, you may not need this document. However a good estate planning attorney can discuss special circumstances with you to help you determine whether a WILL is necessary at this time.

Taking a few moments in your newfound freedom from high school to consider these important documents can offer you, and those who love you, peace of mind as you embrace your next adventure in life. Now that’s something to celebrate!