Category Archives: health care proxy

18-Year-Olds Need Estate Plans, Too

Every adult needs at least a few basic legal documents to provide for her own medical and financial affairs.

Once a person turns 18 years old he becomes a legal adult. This matters from an estate planning perspective because:

  • Parents or legal guardians lose their right of access to information about that young adult.
  • The young adult loses the automatic right of the parents or legal guardians to advocate on his behalf.
  • If the young adult needs assistance with medical care or financial advocacy, such as in the event of an emergency, the parent or legal guardian will be unable to do so without legal authorization.

That’s why every young adult needs at least a very basic estate plan. With proper legal authorization, parents and legal guardians can continue to support and advocate for their children and gain access to their medical, financial, and digital information.

A basic estate plan preserves good relationships between different family members who may not agree with one another about the young adult’s stated wishes.

Every young adult should have at least some basic legal documents that provide the adults of her choosing the authority to:

  • Manage her financial affairs such as paying bills, requesting statement copies, and renegotiating contract or lease terms when she just wants helps and in case of an emergency;
  • Access her online banking and other electronic, financial accounts;
  • Access her protected health information;
  • Consent to or refuse medical treatments and procedures if she cannot do so herself;
  • Serve as her spokesperson regarding her end of life wishes;
  • Consent to donating her organs;
  • Arrange for her cremation or burial;
  • Organize the details of her memorial service according to her preferences;
  • Post notices to and/or memorialize, download copies of, or close out her social media accounts;
  • Specify who should receive certain sentimental pieces of personal property, like jewelry, collections or mementos.


a life still in the process of blossoming, cut short

Sometimes when horrible, totally unfair things happen, they happen to people we love.  Those things force us to sit up and take notice.  They shake our foundations and test our beliefs.  There’s probably nothing that does so more or is more awful than a life still in the process of blossoming, cut short.  Our hearts bleed for the surviving loved ones.  And we are reminded that all lives are like pebbles that make ripples in still water, extending out to all the other lives around us.

A kindred spirit of mine recently experienced such an awful thing and described being in the thick of it so vividly it nearly put me there too:

This is what happened:

Ghost Bike

These are some of the ripples:

People ask me how I can talk and think about disability, incapacity, death, and dying all the time.  (They used to ask me how I could talk about violence against women and children.)  My answer is essentially the same to those questions as the Shel Silverstein poem I quoted under my mug shot in our Senior High School yearbook: “Somebody has to go polish the stars. They’re looking a little bit dull.” 

I asked Kami’s permission to share her post here as a reminder that stuff does happen, in the hope that it will inspire other young, healthy people to take about the same amount of time as dinner and a movie to get their affairs in order as a selfless gift to their loved ones.  If you have ever been in the wretched position of having to make decisions about organ donation and termination of artificial life-sustaining / death-prolonging measures, you would likely never wish that on anyone you love.

While it is difficult and unpleasant to think about these things, it is always better to do so in times of health from a calm and collected place.  You can spare the people you love from possibly turning against one another in their grief over fundamental differences of opinion or out of different religious convictions and allow them to come together for mutual support and comfort instead.  You can spare your loved ones a lifetime of guilt and agony second-guessing their difficult decisions by making those decisions yourself and taking the burden off of them.  You can make sure your sentimental stuff goes to people who will appreciate and understand it.  You can acknowledge relationships that are otherwise not formally recognized.

Terrible things happen and we can’t always prevent them, but we can do things to prevent compounding of our loved ones’ grief.  That is a gift we can give them now and for which they will be forever grateful.

What is Estate Planning & Do I Need a Will Now?

“Estate planning” sounds like something that is pretty fancy and only for very wealthy people, but really it is just about how you would wish matters to be handled in the event of your incapacity and after your death.

Who would you want to make medical decisions for you if you were unable? In what ways would you wish to be kept alive and for how long? How would you wish for your funeral and burial or cremation to be handled, paid for, and by whom? In what manner do you wish to pass on both your financial and priceless personal assets to your children or other relatives? Whom you would want to care for any minor children you may have in the unlikely event both you and your spouse should die simultaneously or close in time?

Many young couples, especially those without children, shrug it off saying, “We don’t have anything” and figure they will address these questions farther down the line. The trouble is, most of us forget to come back to them or don’t want to think about such things, and the best time to contact an attorney and think through these difficult and often painful choices is *before* your family is in crisis. The bottom line is that if *you* do not address these questions and make these decisions, the state/a stranger will end up making them for you and their choices may be very different from your own.

Undoubtedly for parents of young children, the single most anxiety-producing question is what should happen to your children if you are not able to care for them yourself. While it is of course critical to determine whom you would want to be your children’s permanent guardian (and back-up/successor guardians), it is just as critical to name temporary/emergency guardians. If your spouse is far away on a business trip and your named permanent guardians are also far away, you may need a named temporary emergency guardian to care for your children until such time as your permanent guardians are able to arrive. Depending on where they are and what is going on in their own lives, that could be a considerable amount of time. If you don’t have immediate family nearby or name someone, it is entirely possible that your children will be placed into foster care temporarily rather than remaining with close family friends or relatives in their own or a familiar home.

To help you decide whether you should have a Will and other related legal instruments in place now, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you own a home, car(s), and/or jewelry (of sentimental and/or financial value)?

2. Do you have a bank account or accounts?

3. Do you have a life insurance policy?

4. Do you have a minor child or children? If so, have you legally named guardians to care for them temporarily and/or permanently in the event you become unable to do so?

5. Have you inherited a substantial amount of money from a relative?

6. Are you estranged from a closely related family member?

7. Do you or your closely related relatives have any special circumstances that might require distributing assets or property to you/them in a slightly different way?

8. Do you have someone legally appointed to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable?

9. Do you have someone legally appointed to manage your financial affairs (pay your bills, etc.) if you are unable to do so?

10. Do you have a Will? If yes, how many years old is it and does it still reflect your individual and/or family situation?

11. Do you have a Living Will? Do you think your family of origin might disagree with your partner or spouse under the stressful circumstances of your incapacity?

12. If you answered no to more than one of the above questions, why? (e.g. didn’t think it was necessary, don’t want to think about these things because it’s unpleasant, afraid can’t afford an attorney, other?)

Estate planning can be a very empowering process instead of the depressing, anxiety-inducing one you might have feared. If you work with an attorney who cares and listens to you and tries to help you as an individual meet your goals, then you are able to control how you pass on not only your financial assets, but also your intangible assets. Having a Will is not about plugging your name into some forms, tucking it away, and leaving it to collect dust until your eventual death (an attorney who will charge you hundreds of dollars to do just that is taking your money and running, leaving you and your loved ones largely unprotected). Estate planning should be an ongoing process and collaborative effort between you and your family’s attorney to ensure that your legal documents continue to meet your needs over time and weathering all of life’s changes.

As for cost, reasonable professional attorney fees are far less than the expenses involved in such matters as probating your estate and hiring all the related professionals, especially guardians for any minor child or children should both parents die simultaneously or close in time. The relatively small cost should be a top priority as a form of mental and practical “insurance.”

Wishing you and your family health, happiness, and priceless peace of mind!