Life offers no guarantees. But, there is a guarantee of chaos if you have become an adult in the eyes of the law (18 in the United States) and you are injured. Should you sustain an injury that renders you unable to speak for yourself, then you could be in a world of hurt. And I’m not talking about pain from your injury.
What you need to understand is the agony of not having named a legal advocate to speak on your behalf.
Any adult who is incapacitated requires a trusted individual (agent) to speak on their behalf if they cannot do so on their own. It’s important to understand that even the closest relationship does not allow someone else to obtain information or make decisions for another adult. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Up to the age of 17, your parents can legally make decisions on your behalf. But there’s a surprise gift on your 18th birthday: you are on your own as a legal adult. Sooooooo alone!
To calm your fears, let me clarify one thing. Legal documents do NOT allow another to make decisions for you if you are healthy, well, and speaking for yourself. Naming another to receive information or make decisions is only for the circumstance where you need an advocate because of incapacity.
For anyone interested in preventing the chaos, these are the basic documents to be executed:
- Release of information / HIPAA Release – allows your agent(s) to speak with the hospital or doctor and obtain information about your condition.
- Medical Power of Attorney – allows your agent(s) to make medical decisions, consent to surgery, allow treatment, etc.
- Directive to Physicians & Family or Surrogates – tells your agent(s) what you want or don’t want if your condition is terminal or irreversible.
- Statutory Durable Power of Attorney – allows your agent(s) to conduct business on your behalf. This takes care of things like rent, college, and your job. Without this, your agent cannot suspend college classes, stop your rent, or take care of the other parts of your life.
To provide you with the best coverage, it is wise to list multiple agents. For young adults, the need for legal documents will typically be in an emergency. Listing more than one advocate allows the most time efficient response. Complete the documents and have them all notarized. Then provide copies to each person you listed in a position of responsibility. Keep your original document in a secure location.
One last piece of advice. Resist the urge to name a friend. Even someone you have a close relationship with at the time is subject to change. Should the relationship changed, you will have no protection. Family members are best to list at the young adult stage of life. Updated documents should be done when circumstances change (marriage, listed party unable to perform the role, etc.).
The documents are also accessible on our Resources Page.