Contributed by: Stephen Butler, JD, CPA
Once a child turns 18, parents lose the legal ability to make decisions for their child or even to find out basic information. Learning you cannot see your college student’s grades without his/her permission can be mildly frustrating. But a medical emergency can take this frustration to a completely different level. The parents (or a sibling or another person) will probably have to go to court and ask for permission to obtain information about the student’s medical condition, be able to make decisions about treatment, and have access to the student’s financial records and accounts.
The following legal documents allow anyone, including a young adult, to name another person to make medical and financial decisions if someone is unable to make them for themself. The person(s) selected should be someone the young adult knows and trusts, and a candid discussion should occur now so they know what their wishes would be. These documents are not expensive, and everyone over the age of 18 should have them.
Parents may want to set an appointment with their attorney after each child’s 18th birthday and encourage other parents to do the same for their young adults. Having these documents in place does not mean anyone expects to use them, but everyone will be glad to have them should they be needed.
In the Event of Incapacity
- A Durable Power of Attorney for Heath Care gives another person legal authority to make health care decisions (including life and death decisions) if you are unable to make them for yourself.
- A Durable Financial Power of Attorney gives another person legal authority to manage your assets without court interference. (A ‘regular’ power of attorney ends at incapacity; a ‘durable’ power of attorney remains valid through incapacity.) Your attorney can write it in such a way that it does not go into effect until you become incapacitated.
- HIPPA Authorizations give your doctors permission to discuss your medical situation with others, including family members and other loved ones.
In the Event of Death
Most young adults do not have substantial assets, so a simple will is probably all that is needed at this time. It will let the young adult designate who should receive his/her assets and belongings in the event of death. Otherwise, the laws of the state in which the young adult lives will determine this, and that may not be what anyone would want.
After the Documents Have Been Signed
A little housecleaning will probably be in order. It is important that the designated person knows where to find financial records and passwords if needed. The young adult should consider making a list of accounts and passwords (including her computer’s password), print the list and put it in a safe place; a hard copy is important in case the computer is lost or stolen. If an online back-up system is used, be sure to include it. Don’t forget online accounts and social media. If there is anything the young adult does not want someone (think, parents) to see, either get rid of it now or ask a friend to delete files or remove things if something happens. Finally, the young adult should update these documents as life changes.