From the Glenview Herald, "Estates Made Easy," column with Corinne Cantwell Heggie
I have 39 first cousins. From oldest to youngest, we span 4 decades. This means most of us, save the collegiate students, live independently all over the world. Thanks to social media, we stay connected between family gatherings. Last month, a critical mass of Cantwells descended upon Los Angeles for a wedding. Guests witnessed the two traditional hallmarks of a Cantwell wed- ding: generational group photographs and an energized dance floor. Between pictures being snapped and Cantwells busting dance moves, conversation also flowed.
I love talking to my aunts, uncles, cousins, and their spouses. Listening to stories of their professional, personal, and family lives renews my spirit. Inevitably, I also learn new things, too. By and large, we are a fortunate family, even with the rough winds that periodically have shifted us left of center.
However, friends, one story struck a chord — and not because it was a good story. Rather, it was tragic. The tragedy involved a young life lost. The details of how the 24-year-old died seemed murky. What was not murky is that this tragedy caused my 20-something- year-old cousin to reflect on mortality and how it impacts family and friends who are left behind to unpack the situation.
Thankfully, in the story, my cousin was cast as “friend,” making the tragedy one that did not befall my family but was equally jarring.
Generally, young adults are healthy, and data proves it. A recent survey reported on the Population Reference Bureau’s website found that 95% of 18- to 24-year-old Americans report being in excellent, very good, or good health. Perhaps this is one reason why the three leading causes of death for this demographic is linked to accident, homicide, and suicide.
Against this stark backdrop, the 2021 holiday season arrives. Many will travel to or host family and friends to celebrate. If there are young adults in your lives who you love, may this be an invitation to ask if they have the legal tools to protect themselves in the case of illness or death. The legal tools are:
Health care power of attorney: The law permits a young adult who is 18 or old- er to make her own medical decisions. The law allows her to name a trusted adult to make decisions for her if she cannot make them for herself. Two pieces of information are needed to document a young adult’s decision in a health care power of attorney: (1) the young adult’s name and home address and (2) the young adult’s trusted adult’s name, home address and cell- phone number.
Property power of attorney: The law permits a young adult who is 18 or older to make her own financial decisions and to own property in her own name. A property power of attorney permits a young adult to name a trusted adult to handle financial transactions and decisions on her behalf is she is unable. This means a trusted adult can access to digital devices, social media ac- counts and online banking and speak to landlords, schools, employers, and banks. Two pieces of information are needed to document a young adult’s decision in a property power of attorney: (1) the young adult’s name and home address and (2) that person’s trusted adult’s name and home address.
HIPAA Release: HIPAA is a federal law that created national standards to protect sensitive patient health information. A HIPAA release allows a young adult to name trusted adults to speak to health professionals and in- insurance companies about her private health information and current and past medical treatments if the young adult is unable to have these conversations herself.
Last Will and Testament: A will is a legal document that allows an individual, including a young adult, to identify where her property goes when she is no longer living and, critically, to name a trusted person to be in charge. This “person in charge” is an executor. Executors have many duties; however, for a young adult, an executor typically will handle social media accounts, negotiate lease terms, resolve debts including student loans, dispose of a car, gather bank accounts and employment benefits, and pay expenses. A will is a document where the young adult can make sure someone will take care of her pet. My invitation is somber. The conversation I invite you to have will seem as if I am asking you to break stone. But hard conversations need to be had whether or not the halls are decked with boughs of holly. In October, the Cantwells will gather for a wedding in Kansas City, Missouri. I have every reason to believe the nuptials will be punctuated with photographs and dancing — and a few more young people who have wills and powers of attorney.
• Corinne Cantwell Heggie is a principal of the Wochner Law Firm LLC in North- brook. Corinne helps people avoid asset loss, court battles and taxes, with wills, trusts and powers of attorney. Corinne lives in Glenview with her husband and law partner where her family is active in sports, ministries that support women and children in crisis, and Boy Scouts.
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