Estate Planning: What Comes After Pomp & Circumstance?

Lately, I’ve seen quite a few Facebook photo postings from proud parents with their high school seniors. It is a big moment…your child is done with high school and the next step is – gulp – college! Graduating from high school is a significant milestone for both parents and the graduate. There is actually another really important milestone that happens either just before, close in time with or right after this rite of passage – reaching age 18!

This graduated senior may or may not already be 18 years old. We tend to overlook this age because you get your license at 16 and can legally have a cocktail at 21. Age 18 is even more important because the law now considers you an adult (albeit a teetotalling one). Once we reach age 18, a parent may no longer be able to make health care decisions for us, nor can they access our financial accounts and records just by saying “I’m Mom,” or “I’m Dad.”

Let’s say your 18-year-old child heads off this summer to be a camp counselor in NH or ME. If he/she needs medical attention and is not able to communicate for him/herself, the doctor may ask, “Who is his/her Health Care Agent?” Not having one could cause a delay in the receipt of necessary medical care.

Let’s say this same young adult in ME or NH needs someone to access a bank account or financial record in MA. If he/she has an account in his/her name only, Mom and/or Dad will not be able to access that account in that emergency.

This young adult should minimally have a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) and Health Care Proxy (HCP) in place to name someone as their “in case of emergency” designee(s) for financial/legal matters (DPOA) and health care matters (HCP). A best-case scenario is having a Will also.

These documents are also critically important as these newly minted adults head off to college, or wherever this next phase in their lives takes them.