There is definitely a false belief that estate planning and elder law are only for individuals who are elderly and who have amassed a ton of wealth. Certainly, individuals in that category absolutely need to plan, but that does not mean that younger individuals should not also put a plan in place ahead of time.
When an individual reaches the age of majority, which is 18 in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they are presumed to be able to make decisions for themselves and not need the assistance of anyone at that point. Oftentimes, young adults don't realize that once they turn 18, getting a financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and Last Will and Testament can be absolutely necessary.
Many of our clients are college students, going away without mom or dad for the first time, and somewhere within the first couple years they either end up at the hospital or they end up asking mom and dad to call the school to ask questions about billing or something else. To their surprise, their parents are no longer able to just make decisions because they are over 18 and are expected to be adults.
We recommend to all college students going off to school to enter into a power of attorney providing the authority for the parents to be able to make their healthcare and financial decisions if need be. If nothing else, allowing the parents to be able to call the school or other institutions and ask questions. This is often overlooked by many parents and can cause a lot of heart break and stress if their child is injured or in need of assistance.
Although most college students and young individuals have not amassed a ton of wealth, having the document in place specifying who is going to receive the assets and who will be the individuals responsible for carrying out those wishes (executor) can often save lots of heart break. Yes, it is true that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a statute called intestate succession which does provide what would happen to assets if an individual dies, but oftentimes it is not what a person would want.
The intestate succession rules are archaic and old and do not necessarily follow the wishes of a current situation. For example, we recently had a situation where the parents who are estranged had to administer the estate of their daughter who passed away. The emotional toll that it took on the parents and the family for them having to put up with each other was certainly probably not what the daughter wanted and had she had her wishes in place it would have eliminated not only the heartache of losing a child but them having to fight and remind each other every day of why they were divorced in the first place.
We also recommend that young adults have documents that are properly put in place (so that others can get access to digital assets). Digital assets often include photos and videos, electronic media, stored data, and apps, etc. Young adults are typically ones who have proportionately more of these than others, and if the power of attorney or the Last Will and Testament does not provide for that, it can cause lots of time delays and issues.
Hopefully, this article was able to express the need for individuals to have planning in place, particularly young adults who often don't think that it is necessary. If you would like further information or would like to learn more about the content in this blog, please contact our office at 717-845-5390.