Your son, Brian, is crossing the street on his way back to his college dorm when he gets hit by a car. You rush to the hospital, only to be told by the ER doctor that she cannot give you any medical information because Brian never gave you a HIPAA release.
You contact the university administration to arrange for a pause in Brian’s classes while he is hospitalized, but they will not talk to you because Brian had not given written permission.
You want to make sure Brian’s bills are paid so his credit is not ruined, but you do not have access to his email to see the invoices, or to his online bank account to see if they are set up for automatic payment. At the brick-and-mortar bank, the “vice-president” will not talk to you because you are not listed on Brian’s account.
You are not allowed to access Brian’s dorm room or his mailbox because you are not listed as a permitted person.
You are there for Brian, but you cannot help him.
What a nightmare. How did this happen?
The answer is easy: when Brian turned 18, no one managed the change.
For 17 years and 364 days, Brian was your child. You had the legal obligation to support him, and the legal right to make that happen. On the day he reached 18, Brian became an adult in the eyes of the law. The rights you had wielded for his entire life were magically transferred to him. They were yours no longer.
As of his 18th birthday, you had no more right to manage Brian’s legal or medical affairs than you did to manage those of your elderly parents.
But wait – is that true? A lot of seniors have estate planning documents. You can manage your parents’ affairs if they named you as an agent on their powers of attorney, gave you a HIPAA release and did all of those estate planning types of things.
What if Brian, as a young adult, had those types of documents, too? Let’s explore that idea a bit further.
Estate Planning Options for Young Adults
If Brian had signed a HIPAA release and a medical power of attorney naming you as an agent, then the ER doctor would have had to talk to you.
If Brian had signed a durable financial power of attorney naming you as an agent, then the bank, university and dorm managers would have had to give you access.
If Brian had used a password manager and shared the login information with you, then you could have managed his online accounts.
What about the other basic estate planning documents? Surely someone as young as Brian doesn’t need those, right?
Wrong. Sometimes bad things happen to young adults. Even if Brian does not have a lot of life experience, he undoubtedly has some opinions. Those opinions deserve to be respected. If Brian had signed a directive to physicians, then you would have known his wishes if his medical condition was critical. A designation of burial agent would give you directions on organ donation and final arrangements. A will would make handling his estate much easier. A designation of guardian would make it simpler to obtain a temporary or permanent guardianship if he suffered a loss of capacity.
Turning 18 is a big deal. The government’s gift to your child is a bewildering array of legal rights. Your gift should be a birthday cake, a nice card, and a trip to the lawyer’s office.