Summer is officially here! Sweaters have gone back into the closet and the shorts have come out. Magnolias are blooming, the local pools are packed, and young adults everywhere are enjoying their last few weeks before starting college.
Leaving for college is the herald of a new era for a teenager, one full of exciting opportunities. Likely, the high school graduate has recently turned 18 and become legally recognized as an adult. The sudden privileges are virtually endless! They can now vote, buy stock, sign a lease, and go skydiving, just to name a few.
Turning 18 also leaves one vulnerable, however. When someone becomes an adult, their parents or guardians no longer have any legal authority over their affairs. This means parents cannot access their child’s health care records, make medical decisions for them in an emergency, or manage their assets in a crisis.
Before they leave for college, ensure your child has the right estate planning documents in place. Now is the perfect time to sit down and talk Estate Planning. These three documents can make all the difference in the event your teenager is hospitalized or incapacitated.
1. Medical Power of Attorney
The first document your child or loved one needs is a medical power of attorney. A medical power of attorney is an advance healthcare directive. It allows your child to grant you (or someone else) the immediate legal authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves.
Imagine this horrific, but plausible, scenario: your child was biking to class when a reckless driver hits them. They’re knocked unconscious and rushed to the hospital. Thankfully, your child has a Medical Power of Attorney in place, so you are able to make any decisions regarding their treatment.
Without a medical power of attorney in place, if your young adult child requires hospitalization and you need access to their medical records, you would have to petition the court to become their legal guardian. While a parent is typically the court’s first choice for a guardian, the guardianship process can be slow and expensive.
And due to HIPAA laws, once your child becomes 18, no one—not even a parent—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission. An adequately drafted medical power of attorney will include a signed HIPAA authorization. With it, you can immediately access their medical records to make informed decisions about their treatment.
2. Living Will
While the medical power of attorney allows you to make healthcare decisions on your child’s behalf during their incapacity, a living will is an advance directive that provides specific guidance. These are specifications on how your child’s medical decisions should be made, particularly at the end of life.
For example, a living will allows your child to advise if and when they want life support removed should they ever require it. In addition to documenting how your child requests their medical care managed, a living will also include instructions about who should visit them in the hospital and even what kind of food they would want to have provided. For example, if your child is a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or takes specific supplements, a living will can ensure they receive the correct food.
A living will has become even more critical during the spread of Coronavirus. If your child is hospitalized with the virus, the health care document can cover intubation, ventilators, and experimental medications. Having these instructions in place ensures your young adult child is being cared for the way they choose, removing the burden of decision from the shoulders of others.
3. Durable Financial Power of Attorney
Should your child become incapacitated, you may also need the ability to access and manage their finances. This requires your child to grant you durable financial power of attorney.
Durable financial power of attorney gives you the authority to manage another’s financial and legal matters, such as paying their tuition, applying for student loans, paying their rent, negotiating (or re-negotiating) a lease, managing their bank accounts, and collecting government benefits if necessary. Without this document, a parent would have to petition in court for any authority.
Start Adulthood the Right Way
Before your kids or loved ones head out into the world, make sure they have the proper planning in place. These three documents will protect your young adult and allow you to be there when they need it most.
Becoming an adult shouldn’t be wrought with vulnerabilities. Our law firm offers family meetings designed to educate and advise all members of your family about estate planning. We create documents tailored to meet your specific needs. Schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session now so your teenager is prepared for adulthood and ready for that skydiving lesson.
This article is a service of Susan Hunt Law, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.