It’s graduation time, which means your “baby” is finishing High School and preparing to head out into the real world. If you are a parent of such a graduating senior, did you know that your child is “legally” an adult once he or she turns 18? Did you also know that you can no longer make important medical or financial decisions for your adult child without his or her permission?
But your job of being a parent doesn’t automatically stop when your child turns 18. If there’s a medical emergency or your child asks for financial help, you probably want to be able to help out. So before your son or daughter packs up for summer vacation or even their first semester of college, think about the “unthinkable” – is your child protected should anything happen to him or her while away from home?
If your child is over 18 and injured or otherwise unable to speak on his or her behalf, without necessary legal documents, you will not be able to act on his or her behalf, because while your 18-year-old may still be a baby to you, in the eyes of the law he or she is now an adult. That means that you’ll now need written permission to make important medical or financial decisions on his or her behalf.
For example, if your daughter is having a problem registering for fall classes because she’s missing medical records, you can no longer just ask her doctor to release the records without your daughter’s explicit permission. Even worse, if your son gets injured while working during summer or becomes sick hundreds of miles away from home while traveling, who will make the necessary medical decisions for him?
If you didn’t have specific legal documentation in place that permitted you to make important medical and life-saving decisions for your child, the hospital or doctors could easily bar you from being involved in your child’s care.
Most parents just assume they can make medical decisions on their child’s behalf until they are legally married, but that is just not the case. Doctors and financial institutions must follow privacy laws. They will not bend the rules for an upset parent or anyone else.
As a result, you need several key legal documents if you want to make important decisions for your child. Many parents have found themselves in the nightmare scenario where their child needs medical attention and they are hundreds of miles away from home, but the hospital refuses to provide a simple status update, all because the right documents are not in place.
So to avoid all this, parents of graduating seniors should take some time this summer and create 3 simple documents with their “adult” son or daughter, which will give them permission to intervene medically and make life-saving decisions on their child’s behalf, if needed.
They consist of the following:
1.) Advance Health Care Directive – This document allows young adults to appoint someone they trust (usually the parent) to be their health care agent should they end up in a coma or become otherwise incapacitated in a serious accident. It also specifies the type of long-term care or life support the child would want should they become incapacitated or left in a permanent vegetative state.
2.) Financial Power of Attorney (POA) – Having a financial power of attorney is necessary to give someone (preferably the parent) permission to access any bank accounts and act financially on the adult child’s behalf if an emergency occurs. Such activities covered under the power of attorney include paying bills, buying or selling assets, applying for social security or other government benefits, and opening and closing accounts.
3.) Signed HIPAA Form – Parents should have their adult child pre-sign a HIPAA form to ensure they can immediately communicate with the child’s physicians and access important medical records.
Finally, for added protection, we also recommend creating an ICE Card (In Case Of an Emergency Card) to be kept in the child’s wallet listing the names of all approved emergency contacts, health insurance information, and all known allergies.
Create these 3 legal documents before summer officially begins. It’s the peace of mind you and your child deserve if the unthinkable happens. Now is the perfect time to ensure your child has the basic legal protections they need as a newly minted adult.