Updated: Jun 28, 2021
With the arrival of summer, young people across the country have reached a key milestone: high school graduation. If you have a child claiming their diploma, now is the time to prepare them for life after leaving the nest.
Graduating high school is a significant accomplishment. However, it comes with serious responsibilities that your child probably isn't thinking much about right now. 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.
While your child will now be a legal adult, you still have essential parental duties. 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, before your kids move out or head off to college, have a conversation about estate planning and have them sign the following three documents.
1. Medical Power of Attorney
The first document your child needs is a medical power of attorney. A medical power of attorney is an advance directive that 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.
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 decisions need to be made about their treatment, you would not have full authority in those decisions and you may not be consulted at all. In Texas, medical decisions for an individual who isn’t able to communicate his or her own decisions may be made by the attending physician with cooperation of any one of the following people: the patient’s spouse, an available adult child of the patient, one of the patient’s parents, or the patient’s nearest living relative. If none of those individuals are available at the time a decision needs to be made, the decision will be made by two physicians.
To receive full decision-making authority over your child’s medical situation, you’d have to petition the court to become their temporary or permanent 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 a signed HIPAA authorization, so 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. 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 in our previous article, COVID-19 Highlights Critical Need for Advance Healthcare Directives.
3. 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, 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, 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 your help, you’ll have the legal authority to provide it.
This article is a service of The Law Offices of Chris Pryor. We don’t 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’s Future 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’s Future Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.