Once you turn 18, it’s time for incapacity planning
When reach 18 years of age, you are legally considered an adult. However, many people who are well over that age have not done the adult thing of addressing the issue of what would happen if they should become incapacitated and unable to manage their healthcare and financial affairs. This can cause undue stress and turmoil for family members. As unexpected tragic events often can affect even the young, once you turn 18, it is time to address this issue through estate planning.
If you just turned 18, you may think that your parents could make health care decisions for you if you should become incapacitated due to an illness or injury. However, the reality is that once you turn 18, your parents no longer have the right to access your medical records or make care decisions on your behalf, due to the Heath Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). As a result of HIPAA, it is necessary for you to execute a healthcare power of attorney. This document allows your parents (or someone else) to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Whether you are 18 or older, it is also important to ensure that your wishes regarding medical treatment are carried out by having an advance healthcare directive (also called a living will) in place. This document informs your physician and the person that you designate to make medical decisions for you (called a health care surrogate) whether you would like to be on life support or receive other artificial life-sustaining procedures in the event that you cannot communicate your wishes due to incapacity.
Like health affairs, it is also vital to ensure that your financial affairs are looked after in the event that you become incapacitated. For this situation, a power of attorney allows you to appoint someone to act as your agent that has the power to execute financial and legal documents (e.g. tax returns) on your behalf. In the document, you can designate how much power your agent has. For example, you can specify that your agent be empowered to do everything that you could do if you were not incapacitated. Additionally, you can set limits on the types of affairs that the agent can handle.
A power of attorney is a very important component of your estate plan, as it makes handling your financial affairs easier on your loved ones. Otherwise, your loved ones would have to go to court to have a guardian appointed, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.
Consult an attorney
Whether you just turned 18 or are much older, planning for your incapacity can help make it easier on your family by making your healthcare and financial wishes known. In order to ensure that your estate plan covers every likely contingency, it is helpful to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. An attorney can advise you on the potential issues pertaining to your situation and ensure that they are addressed in your estate plan.