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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

Your High School Graduate Needs Estate Planning

POSTED ON: April 18, 2023

Spring is her and high school graduations are right around the corner. If your child is a high school senior, you’re likely planning on attending the graduation ceremony and having some kind of celebration for this milestone in your child’s life. You should also be thinking about the fact that at the age of 18 your high school graduate needs estate planning to keep them safe.

Did you know that the law declares that an 18-year-old person is now an adult? That means they have the same rights and responsibilities of any adult. How does this affect how you can care for your child? As their parent, you no longer have the legal right to access their health care information, their school records, or details about their bank accounts. Your child is put in a position in which you’re no longer able to help them in certain situations.

As a parent, you still want to be able to support your child when they need you. Just because the law says they are an adult, doesn’t mean they are ready to take control of their lives without any assistance from you.

What would happen if your son got into a car accident and wound up in the hospital? After he turns 18, you would no longer have the right to get medical information from his doctors or make medical decisions for him if he’s unable to communicate. Your high school graduate needs this estate planning:

A Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy document allows your child to choose a person who can make medical decisions for them if they become incapacitated and can’t make those decisions for themselves. Without a health care proxy in place, if your child has an accident or an illness and becomes unable to communicate their health care decisions about their treatment, you’d have to petition the court to become their legal guardian so you could make those decisions. The guardianship process is expensive and can take some time; time that could be crucial to your child’s health.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) indicates that once a person is 18 years old, nobody (including parents) has the legal authority to access that patient’s medical records. A well-drafted health care proxy includes a signed HIPAA authorization, so you can get access to your child’s medical records and make informed decisions about their treatment if they are unable to do so.

A Living Will

A living will works in conjunction with a health care proxy. It provides specific guidance about making medical decisions for your child, particularly how and when they wish to receive medical treatment in the event of a terminal illness. Do they want CPR? Do they want to be intubated or have a feeding tube? Do they want to be put on a ventilator?

A Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney allows your child to name the person they trust to make financial decisions if they are unable to do so. As the designated agent, you would be allowed to sign legal paperwork for your child like a financial aid document, a federal or state income tax return, and even a lease in your child’s absence. You could manage their bank accounts, pay their bills, collect their government benefits if needed. Without a durable power of attorney, you would have to petition the court to obtain this legal right.

Another important effort is to make sure your child’s emergency contacts are easily accessible on their smartphone for emergency personnel. We used to be able to accomplish that by saving emergency contacts under the term “ICE” (“In Case of Emergency”) in our phones, but once phones became locked that no longer worked. It’s important to make sure your child’s emergency medical information and contact numbers are visible on their locked phones. This article from PCMag explains how to do it.

For more information on the estate planning your high school graduate needs, contact us to schedule a time for a free consultation. We’ll help put a plan in place for your 18 year old and identify the best ways for you to ensure the security of all of your loved ones.