It’s the big day. You’ve taught your child everything he knows from how to tie a knot to how to knot a tie.
He’s an adult ready to head to college. He’s ready to make his own schedule, juggle a job and classes and start a new adventure.
Only you find out that if one of those adventures winds up in the hospital, legally you’re not allowed to help him.
In most states privacy laws prevent parents from making healthcare or financial decisions for their adult children. Even if you are paying for your adult child’s tuition and health insurance, legally your hands are tied.
Unless, you contacted a trusted estate planning attorney about preparing the legal documents necessary to continue your guardianship role.
Before your child leaves for college or a gap-year program make sure she signs an advance directive for healthcare and a durable power of attorney assigning you or another trusted adult as her representative.
Without these two documents she could find herself incapacitated and alone in a hospital or financially stranded in a foreign country. And you could find yourself having to ask a judge’s permission to help your child.
An advance directive for healthcare is a document that outlines what life-prolonging treatments, if any, you desire in case you are unable to speak for yourself.
These treatments may include cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, artificial respirators, feeding tubes and intravenous rehydration.
The document also appoints someone you trust as your proxy to speak on your behalf if you are incapacitated. This person will be able to make healthcare decisions based on how well they know you with regard to anything not covered in your advance directive. Further, you can nominate a person to be appointed your legal guardian should a court ever determine you are in need of one.
Without this document, your ability to assist your child in a medical emergency or even have access to your child’s medical condition will vary depending on the laws of the state he is in.
In Georgia, parents are allowed to make medical decisions for adult children if they are unmarried and do not have an advance directive. Next priority is given to adult siblings and then to grandparents. But not all states permit these exceptions.
Two additional forms can help expedite your child’s care: a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) form and an In Case of Emergency (ICE) card.
A pre-signed HIPAA form will allow you immediate access to medical records.
An ICE card conveniently fits in a wallet and contains all approved emergency contact names and numbers, health insurance information and any known allergies.
Secondly, have your child sign a durable power of attorney.
A durable power of attorney gives someone legal authority to make financial decisions on another’s behalf. These decisions include being able to enter into, renegotiate or amend contracts.
In the case of a child leaving for a gap-year program, a power of attorney would make it easier for the parent to contact the embassy or wire money from the child’s account.
A power of attorney would also allow the parent to sign a lease on the child’s behalf so he has a place to live when he returns.
Hopefully, your child will never need either one of these documents, but wouldn’t it be better to have them just in case?
With all the things that could possibly happen you will sleep better knowing that in case of an emergency you will be able to be helpful and not helpless.
Richard Barid and Michael Smith are co-founders of Savannah-based Smith Barid LLC, which specializes in elder law, estate planning and special needs planning. They can be reached at 912-352-3999, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.