Once your child turns 18, they become a legal adult, and specific areas of their lives that were once under your control will be solely their responsibility. If your child graduated high school this May or June or in the last five years, you are likely still fairly involved in supporting them in one respect or another.
Yet, if you don’t support your child to step into adulthood with legal documents to help both of you, it can be challenging and costly for you to help them in the event of an emergency.
For instance, should your child get into a severe car accident and require hospitalization, you would no longer have the automatic authority to make decisions about his or her medical treatment or handle their financial matters. In fact, without legal documentation, you wouldn’t even be able to access his or her medical records or bank accounts without a court order.
To address this vulnerability and ensure your family never gets stuck in an unnecessary court process, have a conversation about and empower your children to get these three documents in place.
Medical Power of Attorney
The first document your child needs is a medical power of attorney. A medical power of attorney is allows your child to grant you (or someone else that they choose to name) the immediate legal authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves.
For example, the medical power of attorney would allow you to decide about your child’s medical treatment if he or she is knocked unconscious in a car accident or falls into a coma due to a debilitating illness.
Without a medical power of attorney in place, if your child suffers a severe accident or illness that requires hospitalization and you need access to their medical records to make decisions about their treatment, you’d 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 parents—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission. But an adequately drafted medical power of attorney will include HIPAA authorization, so you (or the person they choose) can immediately access their medical records to make informed decisions about their treatment.
Advance Directive aka Living Will
While the medical power of attorney allows you (or the person they named) to make healthcare decisions on your child’s behalf during their incapacity, an advance directive provides specific guidance. These are specifications on how your child’s medical decisions should be made, particularly at the end of life.
For example, an advance directive 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, this document may 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. These are all things that should be considered and recorded in their living will.
Finally, speak with your child about the unique medical decisions related to the coronavirus, particularly in intubation, ventilators, and experimental medications. Your child’s quality of life decisions should also be outlined in their living will. You can find more information in our previous article, COVID-19 Highlights Critical Need for Advance Healthcare Directives.
Sometimes the Healthcare Power of Attorney and the Advance Directive are combined into one document.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
Should your child become incapacitated, in order for you to have the ability to access and manage their finances, your child will need to have made you their financial power of attorney. While your child can, as an adult, name someone other than a parent as the financial power of attorney, depending on their financial reliance on you, it makes sense for them to give you this power so that you can efficiently and directly help them.
A general durable financial power of attorney gives the person your child chooses the authority to manage their 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, you’ll have to petition the court for such authority.
Start Adulthood The Right Way
Before your kids head out into the world, make sure they’ve got the proper planning in place. By doing so, you are modeling good financial stewardship and setting them up right from the start. Financial and legal illiteracy is an epidemic that you can quickly address, starting with yourself and your own family.
As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can not only help you create these vital documents (also check out this section on our website: Who We Help – Young Adults Need Planning Documents), but we can also facilitate a family meeting to discuss the importance of planning. We will begin what we hope will be a life-long relationship with your children as they take this crucial first step into adulthood. Contact us today to ensure that if your child ever does need help, the person or persons they choose for the roles of financial and healthcare decisionmakers will have the legal authority to provide it.
This article is a service of Rebecca Strub, 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. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.