While estate planning is probably one of the last things your teenage kids are thinking about, given the dire threat coronavirus represents, when they turn 18, it should be their (and your) number-one priority. Here’s why: At 18, they become legal adults in the eyes of the law, so you no longer have the authority to make decisions regarding their healthcare, nor will you have access to their financial accounts if something happens to them.
With you no longer in charge, your young adult would be extremely vulnerable in the event they become incapacitated by COVID-19 or another malady and lose their ability to make decisions about their own medical care. Seeing that putting a plan in place could literally save their lives, if your kids are already 18 or about to hit that milestone, it’s crucial that you discuss and have them sign the following documents.
Medical Power of Attorney
Medical power of attorney is an advance directive that allows your child to grant you (or someone else) the legal authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf in the event they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves.
For example, medical power of attorney would allow you to make decisions about your child’s medical treatment if he or she is in a car accident or is hospitalized with COVID-19.
Without medical power of attorney in place, if your child has a serious illness or injury 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 guardian, the guardianship process can be both slow and expensive.
And due to HIPAA laws, once your child becomes 18, no one—even parents—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission. But a properly drafted medical power of attorney will include a signed HIPAA authorization, so you can immediately access their medical records to make informed decisions about their healthcare.
While 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 about how your child’s medical decisions should be made, particularly at the end of life.
For example, a living will allows your child to let you know if and when they want life support removed should they ever require it. In addition to documenting how your child wants their medical care managed, a living will can also include instructions about who should be able to visit them in the hospital and even what kind of food they should be fed.
This is especially vital if your child has specific dietary preferences. For example, if he or she is a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or takes specific supplements, these things should be noted in their living will. It’s also important if you don’t know all of their friends or who they would want to be part of their medical decision-making should they become unable to make decisions for themself.
Additionally, remember to speak with your child about the unique medical scenarios related to COVID-19, particularly in regards to intubation, ventilators, and experimental medications. How such treatment options can be addressed in a living will can be found in our previous post: COVID-19 Highlights Critical Need for Advance Healthcare Directives.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
Should your child become incapacitated, you may also need the ability to access and manage their finances, and this requires your child to grant you durable financial power of attorney.
Durable financial power of attorney gives you the authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying their tuition, applying for student loans, managing their bank accounts, and collecting government benefits. Without this document, you’ll have to petition the court for such authority.
Peace of Mind
As parents, it’s normal to experience anxiety as your child individuates and becomes an adult, and with the pandemic still raging, these fears have undoubtedly intensified. While you can’t totally prevent your child from an unforeseen illness or injury, with a Personal Family Lawyer® advising you, you can at least rest assured that if your child ever does need your help, you’ll have the legal authority to provide it. Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® today to get started.