While many people think estate planning only relates to those who are well established in life, estate planning should begin much sooner than most people realize. Estate planning may conjure up images of wills and 401Ks, but the process should be essential to everyone upon reaching the age of majority, typically 18 years old.
Upon reaching the age of 18, most children in some form or fashion begin to assert their independence from their parents whether it is going to college, moving out of the house, or finding a new job. The law acts similarly because in the eyes of the law 18 year olds are adults no matter if they live at home or if they are away at college. This raises a number of implications because parents of these young adults are no longer entitled to make certain medical or legal decisions that they could have made while the child was a minor. If a college age child loses the ability to make or even communicate decisions, doctors and nurses may refuse to release information to you without the proper legal documents. Upon reaching the age of 18, the law recognizes an individual’s right to privacy and to govern their own lives.
Obviously, it is a scary thought to many parents that they may not be able to help their own child in a time of his or her greatest need. However, there are a number of estate planning documents that can enable a parent to make these decisions for their child. Although most 18 year olds likely do not need a will, all should have an Appointment of Health Care Agent or a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Each of these documents allocates authority to another to make health care decisions in the event that an individual is incapacitated and unable to make decisions. While an Appointment of a Health Care agent appoints another to make decisions in the event of incapacitation, a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care lists the individual’s preference for treatment and appoints another individual to make those decisions accordingly in the event of incapacitation.
Another important release is from HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which protects patient privacy. This would enable health care physicians to release patient information to the person listed on the release.
While a parent’s biggest concern is the health of their child, it is also important to note that certain legal documents allow a parent to make financial decisions on behalf of their child. A durable power of attorney allows a parent to make financial decisions on behalf of their child in the event of incapacitation. This would allow a parent to pay a child’s bills, speak to his or her landlord, or other important financial acts.
Understandably, no one likes to think about anything bad ever happening to their child. However, it is important to be prepared in case anything ever did happen. If you have questions about or need any essential estate planning documents, be sure to contact The Higgins Firm. Our Tennessee attorneys would be happy to talk with you about your options.