Our firm is called Elder Law Associates PA, and a great majority of our clientele is over the age of 60 … but what we do is really applicable to anyone over 18. I have seen horrific cases that involve elder abuse, murders, and crippling illnesses that take the physical freedom of a person away but leave their mind perfectly intact. Many times, this job is not easy, but it is always rewarding. However, the days that always seem to hit hardest are when a decedent or alleged incapacitated person is in their 20s or 30s. They had their whole lives ahead of them only to have it ended too soon due to catastrophic illnesses or injuries. We often think that advance directives and last will and testaments are only needed by our parents’ generation (or grandparents). Unfortunately, people that are in the prime of their lives also have a need for the documents we prepare.
Parents’ authority to dictate their child’s financial and medical decisions stops the second the child turns 18. This coming of age is a tangible freedom for many young adults. What young people may not realize, though, is that as of that moment, should something happen, they may no longer have anyone who can legally make their financial or medical decisions for them. How many of us know someone in their 20s, 30s, or 40s who was seriously injured or died in a vehicle accident? If it was a catastrophic accident and they didn’t pass away, these people are lucky to be alive. But how many of these people had advance directives in place for their family members or significant others to make decisions for them if they can’t? Not many, right? A simple “Designation of Health Care Surrogate” makes it easy for the hospital to know who YOU want to make medical decisions on your behalf. A “Living Will” can give that designated person a game plan of what you would like done should you be unable to speak for yourself and are in a terminal or persistent vegetative state. Perhaps you want your sibling or long-standing significant other to be able to call the doctors and see how you are doing? Well, without a HIPPA release, due to federal law, your doctor’s lips are staying sealed.
Now what if you cannot make decisions that relate to your finances? Do you trust someone to make financial decisions on your behalf? Is that person someone who the law would choose for you? The person you may want may not be the one with priority under the law. Or perhaps two people, who may want different things for you, have equal priority … do you want them to have to go to court to figure out who has the right to make YOUR decisions? To have a say in this, all you need is a “Durable Power of Attorney.” This document is automatically effective and declares your second (and possibly third and/or fourth) in command to handle a financial situation should you require their assistance. It’s also a nifty little tool if you are off gallivanting around the world and your credit card gets hacked and you don’t want to spend hours on the phone with the credit card company. Your designated agent may have the time and no objection to helping you rectify the situation.
To have the above documents prepared legally only takes a couple hours. Those couple of hours now can save your family dozens of hours should something happen to you, and save the thousands of dollars in seeking a guardianship if one is necessary. And should circumstances change, it takes even LESS time to change those documents.
And now for the last thing most young people want to talk about: your Last Will and Testament. You have nothing, right? You’re broke … living paycheck to paycheck … all you have is a condo/house … You don’t need a will, right? Maybe. In this day and age of blended families, the law may not automatically reflect what you would have wanted. For example, say you bought a house when it was just you and your child, and now you’re married. If you do not want your new spouse to get 50% interest in the home after you pass away, maybe you need a will. Or perhaps you have raised your spouse’s children since they were born, but biologically and legally those children are not yours. If something happened to you, would you like for them to be treated as your children? Well, unless you say so in a will, the law will not provide for that.
And what if you are a parent? Who will take care of your child should something happen to you? Wouldn’t you want to memorialize your wishes regarding that very important decision? A will can seem scary, but you never know when you may need it. Too many people pass away at young ages for countless, unimaginable, reasons.
I end with where I started: At Elder Law Associates PA, we do elder law … but so much more. All these legal documents I mentioned are applicable to anyone over the age of 18. They are not just for the elderly. They really are for every adult in the family.
If you have any questions regarding your particular situation, don’t put it off until it’s too late. Please visit our website, www.elderlawassociates.com, or contact us today. At Elder Law Associates, we give families peace of mind.