Amidst all the planning for their future and the excitement of turning 18, estate planning for your recently turned adult child is the last thought on a parent or child’s mind. But when a child turns 18, this is one meeting that must be scheduled. Why? Because once your child reaches age 18, you no longer have the legal authority to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf, or to manage your child’s finances.
Part of your child’s new independence is the responsibility to make responsible decisions about their future. For example, what would happen if he or she were in an accident and suffered a debilitating injury that prevented them from making their own decisions? Before the parent (or any other person) could communicate with the doctors, make decisions concerning medical procedures, or access bank accounts to make sure that your child’s bills are paid; you would have to petition the court to be appointed as a guardian or conservator. This process loses valuable time in a situation where your child often needs you act quickly on their behalf. Without the legal authority to act on your child’s behalf, these important life decisions will be made by medical staff and other unrelated third parties. Do not leave these important decisions to strangers. Your child should make decisions now on who will be responsible for communicating with doctors, making medical decisions on their behalf, and handling their finances.
A visit to an estate planning attorney will prevent the delay by ensuring that the parent has the power to step in and make decisions in the event the child ever faces a situation where he or she can’t make their own decisions. This is done through an incapacity plan, a set of documents that pre-authorizes the person designated by your child to take certain actions on their behalf. An incapacity plan generally includes the following documents:
• A Medical Power of Attorney: This is a document with which your child names you as her agent for purposes of making health care decisions. With a Medical Power of Attorney in place, you have the power to direct your child’s care in the event of a debilitating injury or illness.
• A HIPAA Authorization: This is a document that permits your child’s doctors to communicate with you concerning her medical records and medical care. Absent a HIPAA Authorization, you can be faced with a number of hoops to jump through before you can talk to your child’s doctors.
• A Financial Power of Attorney: This is a document that pre-authorizes you to access your child’s bank accounts, pay bills on her behalf, and, if the need arises, even apply for government benefits on your child’s behalf.
Your estate planning attorney can help your child prepare for an emergency, and ensure that you have the power to be there for her if she needs you.