Young people in their 20s and 30s have a lot on their plates. Finishing school, starting a family, launching a career — all are inherently challenging. Indeed, the combination of increases in the cost of college and the sluggish post-Recession job market can make stepping fully out into adult life harder than ever.

People under 40 would do well to remember the importance of getting started on estate planning as well. In Massachusetts and across the country, getting at least a basic estate plan in place is important.

The first steps for this plan can be taken right away when a young adult leaves for college. Even if school is not far away, it makes sense to complete a health care directive. This document, often called a living will, can provide key guidance on medical decisions if a student gets in a serious accident or becomes incapacitated in some other way.

In addition to a living will, it is also important to identify someone to serve as a representative for making decisions about medical treatment if incapacity were to occur. This designation is also called a healthcare proxy.

Putting this healthcare decision-making structure in place is not only valuable for the student going off to school. It’s also valuable for parents. Otherwise, parents could end up facing a scenario where they are unable to participate in decisions about medical treatment for an incapacitated child.

Indeed, the parents may be unable to even gain access to their son or daughter’s medical records. That is why estate planning attorneys often advise execution of a form that gives the healthcare agent or proxy permission to access medical records. This is known as HIPPA authorization. HIPPA is an abbreviation for a federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Source: “Even young adults should start estate planning,” NBC News, Sheyna Stelner, 5-6-13