Estate planning: not just for old folks

If you are a young adult, when you come of age you have many decisions. Among your decisions are which college to attend, what sort of career that you want to pursue and whether you want to join the military. However, as you're young and feel immortal, estate planning is probably not what you are thinking of at age 18. You may think that because you have little money or property that it is not necessary. However, as things can often go awry in life, it is important to put a few safeguards in place concerning your affairs.

Planning for incapacity

Health Care Power of Attorney (HPOA)

As you are young and likely in good health, you are probably not thinking about what happens if you are in an accident and need medical care but are unable to make decisions about that care. You may incorrectly think that if such a thing happens, your parents would be able to step in and make decisions on your behalf. In reality, once you turn 18 you are legally considered to be an adult. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), your parents can no longer have access to your medical records and make medical decisions for you.

In Illinois, in order for your parents (or someone else) to have access to your records, you need to sign a HPOA. This document allows access to your medical records and provides a health care directive which authorizes someone of your choosing to make medical decisions on your behalf. Finally, the HPOA makes your wishes about resuscitation and prolonged medical treatment and procedures known. Finally, a living will or advance healthcare directive can make your wishes known about resuscitation and prolonged medical treatments and procedures.

Power of Attorney for Property

Another important part of a young person's estate plan is a power of attorney for property. This document designates someone to take care of your financial and legal affairs on your behalf if you are unable to. The person named in the power of attorney is allowed to sign contracts and other documents on your behalf.

Powers of attorney are not only useful in cases where you are incapacitated, but are also helpful in practical matters. For example, one of the great opportunities college offers is studying abroad. While you are gone, a power of attorney allows your parents (or whomever) to take care of issues (e.g. taxes) that come up while you are away. If you are married, powers of attorney can also clarify that your spouse, not your parents, is the person whom you want acting on your behalf.

Distribution of your property

When you are young, you may not have much property and think that having a will is unnecessary. However, if you don't have a will, your property will be distributed according to the intestacy laws, meaning that you have no say in who gets your property. It is therefore important to have a simple will to ensure that your property is distributed according to your wishes.

Before you begin your adult life, it is helpful to contact an experienced estate planning attorney. An attorney can advise you on your situation and ensure that you have an estate plan that will adequately serve you throughout your life.

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