Once a child turns eighteen, parents lose the legal ability to make decisions for their child or even to find out basic information. Learning you will not be able to see your college student’s grades without your child’s 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, make decisions about treatment, and have access to the student’s financial records and accounts.
The following legal documents, prepared by an estate planning attorney, allow you to name another person to make medical and financial decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. The person you select should be someone you know and trust, and a candid discussion should occur now so that the designated individual knows what your wishes would be. These documents are not expensive, and everyone over the age of eighteen should have them.
Parents should consider scheduling a visit with their estate planning attorney after each child’s eighteenth birthday. 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.
Most young adults do not have substantial assets, so a simple will may be all that is needed initially. However, having a will does not mean that your assets will avoid probate; a fully funded revocable trust is necessary to do that. For a small estate, probate avoidance (and the time and money saved) can be very meaningful. In a will or a revocable trust, the young adult will designate who should receive his or her assets and belongings in the event of death and who should be responsible for carrying out those instructions. In the absence of a will or revocable trust, the laws of the state in which the young adult lives will determine this, and the outcome may not be what anyone would have wanted.
A little housecleaning may be in order. It is important that the people you designate in these documents know where to find financial records and passwords if needed. Tidy up your computer’s desktop. Make a list of accounts and passwords (including your computer’s password), print the list, and put it in a safe place; a hard copy is important in case your computer is lost or stolen. If you use an online backup system, be sure to include it. Do not forget online accounts and social media. Finally, update your documents as your life changes.