Many people wait until the birth of their first child before considering a will, health care directive, or legal protection for their assets. The logic is that if you don’t have significant assets, there is nothing to protect. However, once you turn 18, you alone are responsible for making decisions about your health care and finances and who has access to information relating thereto. As young adults head back to college this Fall, make sure that you and/or your children have legal protections in place to ensure that your and/or their wishes will be fulfilled.
Anyone over the age of 18 should have the following:
Health Care Proxy and Living Will
If you get sick and/or are incapacitated, you may not be able to make decisions about your medical treatment. A health care proxy gives another individual(s) the power to evaluate care options and make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so. The presumption is that the individual holding the health care proxy understands your preferences on medical treatment, but they can also rely on a living will, if applicable. A living will or advanced directive is a written document that outlines how you would like to be treated medically in the event of certain circumstances and might include your preferences on organ donation and palliative care, for example.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Waiver
If you are 18 or over, a doctor or hospital cannot share your medical information with family, even if your family pays your medical insurance premiums. A HIPAA waiver allows medical professionals to share your general medical information with another individual(s) and/or family members. Allowing loved ones access to your medical information (including a diagnosis and care plans) in the event that you are unable to communicate can provide them with peace of mind.
Durable General Power of Attorney
If you are incapacitated, a durable general power of attorney will enable an individual(s) to act on your behalf for financial matters i.e., paying bills, filing taxes, signing or terminating a lease. This can alleviate a lot of headaches if you are incapacitated for a significant period.
If you do have assets, a will governs the disposition of them. It will help determine who receives and who doesn’t receive your assets and can help facilitate the process in the event of your death.
If you are a college or graduate student, your educational information (including GPA, disciplinary records, and financial aid information) is considered private and the educational institution cannot disclose this information, with a few exceptions, to anyone without your consent. If you would like to share this information with parents and/or others, you will need to sign a FERPA Waiver. Your educational institution can provide you with a FERPA Waiver form.
Don’t let costs get in the way of protecting your interests. These documents are relatively uncomplicated and can be obtained from a lawyer for $500 or less in most markets. You may be able to download forms of these documents from the internet; however, make sure that these forms are valid and legally binding in each state in which you live and/are a resident. A lawyer can ensure that your interests are protected, and it is a small cost to pay to make sure that your wishes are followed. You should carry a card in your wallet which indicates that you have these documents in place and how they can be accessed, and you should share the documents with the person(s) with whom you have named as your health care proxy and power of attorney.
Contemplating your own death or incapacitation is difficult at any age, but it is important to consider before a worst-case scenario occurs. Also, keep in mind that you can and probably will change your mind about who you want to make decisions on your behalf and about your health care wishes in the future, and these documents can be modified as needed. The important thing is to get these protections in place now before you need to rely on them.