Once a child turns 18, parents
lose the legal ability to make decisions for their child or even to find out
basic information. Learning you cannot see your college student’s grades
without his/her permission can be mildly frustrating. But a medical emergency
can take this frustration to a completely different level. The parents (or a
sibling or another person) will probably have to go to court and ask for
permission to obtain information about the student’s medical condition, be able
to make decisions about treatment, and have access to the student’s financial
records and accounts.
The following legal documents allow anyone, including a
young adult, to name another person to make medical and financial decisions if someone
is unable to make them for themself. The person(s) selected should be someone the
young adult knows and trusts, and a candid discussion should occur now so they
know what their wishes would be. These documents are not expensive, and
everyone over the age of 18 should have them.
Parents may want to set an
appointment with their attorney after each child’s 18th birthday and
encourage other parents to do the same for their young adults. Having these
documents in place does not mean anyone expects to use them, but everyone will
be glad to have them should they be needed.
In the Event of
Durable Power of Attorney for Heath Care gives another person legal
authority to make health care decisions (including life and death decisions) if
you are unable to make them for yourself.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney gives another person legal authority to manage your assets without court
interference. (A “regular” power of attorney ends at incapacity; a “durable”
power of attorney remains valid through incapacity.) Your attorney can write it
in such a way that it does not go into effect until you become incapacitated.
Authorizations give your doctors permission to discuss your medical
situation with others, including family members and other loved ones.
In the Event of Death
Most young adults do not have
substantial assets, so a simple will is probably all that is needed at this
time. It will let the young adult designate who should receive his/her assets
and belongings in the event of death. Otherwise, the laws of the state in which
the young adult lives will determine this, and that may not be what anyone
After the Documents Have Been Signed
A little housecleaning will
probably be in order. It is important that the designated person knows where to
find financial records and passwords if needed. The young adult should consider
making a list of accounts and passwords (including her computer’s password),
print the list and put it in a safe place; a hard copy is important in case the
computer is lost or stolen. If an online back-up system is used, be sure to
include it. Don’t forget online accounts and social media. If there is anything
the young adult does not want someone (think, parents) to see, either get rid
of it now or ask a friend to delete files or remove things if something
happens. Finally, the young adult should update these documents as life
Contact a Palo Alto Estate Planning Attorney if you have questions.