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Isn’t a Power of Attorney Just for Old People, Right? Wrong!

Power of Attorney for Healthy Individuals

Why Young Adults Need Power of Attorneys 

When children turn 18, they legally become adults.  If there was a catastrophic life event which rendered them unable to make their own life decisions, their parents no longer have any legal rights.  If the young adult becomes seriously ill or disabled, it may require a court appointed guardian to make financial or medical decisions.  Creating both medical and a financial power of attorneys will provide uninterrupted safeguards.  It is important to make decisions while health is not a concern.   

Health Care (Medical) Power of Attorney 

A healthcare or medical Power of Attorney selects someone to make medical decisions if an individual becomes incapacitated or unable to make medical decisions.  It should include HIPPA language that allows medical professionals to discuss confidential medical information with a designated person. A health care power of attorney may or may not include mental health directives.   The person appointed is called an Agent and it is critical that agent is provided with clear direction to carry out the person's wishes.  It is also a good idea to appoint an alternate agent, as occasionally, the individual appointed as agent, due to their personal feelings or due to unforeseen circumstances is unable to make the necessary decisions. The secondary party also known as the alternate agent will provide guidance to the healthcare professionals.  A common example might involve a parent being unable to carry out the wishes of their terminally ill child.  The alternate agent is able to step in and make the difficult decisions.  When selecting an agent for a power of attorney, it is also a good time to discuss organ donation.  While donor status may have been elected on an Arizona driver's license, family members have the right to override donor elections. 

The Arizona Secretary of State allows you to register, free of charge, medical power of attorneys on their web site.  Simply go to Advanced Directives and follow the easy steps to register health care directives.  Medical professionals and care providers have ready access to this site which helps them to comply with your health care directions.  It is vital to communicate with family members – and agents - what the person’s wishes are.  They need to be fully informed regarding healthcare choices including organ donations. 

Financial Power of Attorney 

A financial power of attorney appoints someone to make financial decisions if an individual becomes incapacitated or unable to make or direct their finances.  Some young adults may have bank or brokerage accounts.  If they become disabled or incapacitated those funds may not be available for their care without a court order.  A financial power of attorney names an agent to direct financial affairs of the incapacitated person.  They may be narrow and specific to cover just one account or very broad to cover a multitude of different types of property.   

  • Personal Finance - Examples include making bank deposits and withdrawals or paying bills; buying, selling and transferring funds in a brokerage account; or requesting or recovering funds due to that person.  Brokerage accounts may require very specific language. 
  • Personal Property – Buy, sell, exchange or change title to personal property 
  • Real Property – While unusual that a young adult would hold real property when they turn 18, as they age they may purchase real property. 

Difficult Conversations 

It is important to remember that neither a financial nor a healthcare power of attorney can or will be used as long as the young adult is healthy and able to make their own medical and financial decisions. They maintain full control, unless they become incapacitated.    The powers of attorney can be for a specific duration of time or open ended.  Additionally, only directed activities given in the power can be performed by the agent. These are difficult conversations to have.   Formalizing wishes with certainty and clarity provides continuity and direction.  


About the author:  Beth S. Cohn is a shareholder at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk.  She chairs the business law department and assists clients with estate planning.  She is a State Bar of Arizona certified tax specialist and a CPA.