Estate Planning at 18: Why it is never too early

It is your eighteenth birthday, making you legally an adult in Minnesota. This means you can make your own decisions and finally take control of your destiny, right? As your first act as a responsible adult you… create a Health Care Directive?

Prior to age 18, your legal guardian (usually your parents) served as the medical decision-maker. If you were involved in an accident and became unconscious or incapacitated, your guardian was able to speak to doctors, obtain information, and decide upon treatment for you. Upon turning 18, that magical title of “guardian” evaporates, leaving those decisions to you alone. If you can’t speak on your own behalf, who can? This is where a Health Care Directive or “Living-Will” comes into play and why it is never too early to be thinking about what choices you would make if certain situations arose and whom you could trust to carry out your wishes.

Why I decided to complete a Health Care Directive in my 20’s
Prior to attending law school, I had never heard of a Health Care Directive. I never thought about becoming permanently comatose or dying in an accident. Death only happened with the elderly or the extremely careless, not me. As I transitioned from undergrad to graduate school, I lost a high school classmate in a tragic car accident (a leading cause of death among teenagers). Growing up in a small suburb, I was shocked that this was the third classmate I had lost in the less than five years since our graduation. Whether it was a freak occurrence, military service, or a car accident, the terrible experiences my peers’ families went through forced me to consider my own mortality.

As a twenty-three year old, I created a Health Care Directive through a volunteer opportunity with the law school I currently attend. It was incredibly challenging to walk through the questions and examine my beliefs on certain issues. Would I prefer to be buried or cremated? Was there a specific church or certain individuals I wanted involved in my funeral arrangements? Did I want to donate my organs or perhaps direct them to a specific research university like my alma-matter? Were there any treatments that I wanted to refuse regardless of whether they may mean life or death?

The most difficult decision for me was actually selecting my health care agent. I was torn between nominating my mother or my father, or even leaving the decision to a more removed relative or friend. In the end, I nominated my father as my primary agent and my mother as his successor. It was very hard to tell them this without hurting my mother’s feelings. Deep down, I knew that if I was in a comatose state that my mother would spend the rest of her life waiting for a miracle recovery. After reflecting on these concepts on my own, I had a conversation with my parents about our views on death and dying. Like most families with young adult children, this was a topic that we had never discussed previously.

Overall, the most important part of creating a Health Care Directive is having the hard conversations with your loved ones about your wishes upon death or incapacitation. They may never want to think about losing you, but the reality is that there will come a time when we are faced with losing someone unexpectedly. A Health Care Directive is a gift that you give to others. This gift gives your loved ones not only the right to make decisions on your behalf but also guides them through this process allowing them to direct care based upon your wishes.

For more information on Health Care Directives, consult with an Elder Law Attorney in your area. Health Care Directives do have varying requirements in different states. For additional information, please review Maser, Amundson, Boggio & Hendricks blog post on Health Care Directives.

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